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Instead of a potential “rebuild”, think of a potential “renaissance” when the 2020 Dallas Cowboys are the topic of conversation.
There is no mistaking the fact that the team underperformed after coming out of the 2019 gates with a 3-0 record. Lackluster play, injuries and a major hint of bland coaching eventually led the Cowboys to an all-too-familiar 8-8 record.
Luckily for Dallas, 2020 brings a new team with a fresher mind to lead them. Mike McCarthy, who coached the Green Bay Packers to 125 wins (and to victory in Super Bowl XLV) over a span of 13 years (2006-18), replaces Jason Garrett as head coach after the latter was fired. After notoriously taking time off to modernize his philosophy and increase his analytical grasp on modern offenses, McCarthy will now pair up with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and take Dallas’s firepower to new hopeful heights.
Despite a change at the top, the pair will not have to worry about a dearth of options on the offensive side of the gridiron.
The Cowboys bring back their leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott and their top two leading receivers from last season (Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, respectively). Then, of course, there is quarterback Dak Prescott, who is back on the team after signing a franchise tag north of $30 million. All players, health permitting, should be able to produce effectively worst-case scenario and explode with career seasons (if this is even possible) best-case scenario with a new head coach in place.
The glue of the offense in the offensive line will a bring less certainty, as the retirement of Travis Frederick and the placement of La’el Collins on the Injured Reserve (IR) will force Dallas to go with newer and fresher names to at least start the season. While there will be new faces, the veteran presence of steady Pro Bowlers in Tyron Smith and Zack Martin will still give Prescott the pocket presence, Elliott the holes and the wide receivers the necessary time to run routes.
Offensively, everything seems fine and dandy. Defensively, however, is where the possible mystery begins to reveal itself. The front seven will be spearheaded by the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, a now-healthy Leighton Vander Esch, and offseason acquisitions in Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen. The latter three bring uncertainty in regard to health and productivity when combined with the likes of Sean Lee already on the IR.
On the defensive back side of the ball, the departure of Byron Jones via free agency will put more coverage pressure on Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods, who led the defensive group in combined tackles last season (79 and 77, respectively). Tackles, however, will predominantly be taken care of by the front seven. What needs to be addressed, though, are consistent routes that coincide with passes defended and interceptions. Mike Nolan, Dallas’s new defensive coordinator, will look to bring more aggression to the unit to help offset the departure of Jones and the potential injury issues that could arise.
No matter what side of the ball Dallas look at, they still have one certainty up their sleeve: a strong draft class.
Nabbing CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) with the 17th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft is not only a steal in itself (Lamb was a projected top-10 draft pick on the many draft boards) but is a significant asset that will strengthen an already stacked wide receiving unit. Defensive backs in Trevon Diggs (Alabama) and Reggie Robinson II (Tulsa) adds more versatility to the defensive core looking to replace Jones and find a new identity under Nolan. Defensive end Bradlee Anae (Utah) brings more stopping power. When looking up and down the draft class, Dallas is not only set up for the future, but also the present.
The present, of course, is what matters most to the Cowboys right now.
While COVID-19 limited practices and familiarity to a new coaching staff, the Cowboys still look fresher. A new and revitalized head coach usually brings that. This revitalization at the coaching level, however, should trickle down to on-the-field production for Dallas this season. When paired with a favorable schedule (Dallas’s .459 SOS is the third easiest in the NFL and the easiest among all NFC teams), Dallas should be able to work out the kinks and produce at a level expected of them.
While pundits question the defense, the coaching staff or the quarterback under a franchise tag, the Cowboys should be able to rebound from a mediocre 2019 season and contend for a deep playoff run.
Should they achieve what they want to achieve, “rebuild” will no longer be a word in their dictionary.
Instead, “renaissance” will take more precedent.