Lofty expectations going into the season fizzled out quickly as Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys disappointed going 6-10. An early-season injury to Dak Prescott killed any playoff hopes as Andy Dalton was thrust into the starting lineup. Minimal cap space and Dak Prescott still unsigned means there will be big decisions to make for the Cowboys offseason.
Roster Needs: QB, CB, DT, OL, TE
First and foremost, the Cowboys offseason must consist of re-signing Dak Prescott. Prescott was on fire before a devastating ankle injury in week 5 ended his 2020 campaign. Through his first five games, Prescott was on pace for his best season in his five-year career. The Cowboys had the best aerial attack in the league, averaging just under 400 yards per game. Outside of Dak, the Dallas quarterbacks mustered a mere 199 yards per game through the final 11 games of the season. Those astoundingly poor numbers are even more proof that Prescott must be kept in Dallas no matter what. A steep $30 million per year is the likely deal that will be agreed upon. Cuts and restructuring of contracts must be done, but Jerry Jones can pull it off.
The offensive line is not as high of a need this Cowboys offseason due to injuries. The offensive line was decimated by the end of the season. So much so that All-Pro right guard Zack Martin was forced to play right tackle. Starting tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins were both put on IR. Connor Williams impressed at left guard, but struggling center, Joe Looney, will be gone in free agency. Fourth-round pick, Tyler Biadasz had a poor rookie season but does have potential. Regardless, help is needed on the interior front.
The Cowboys have the tenth pick of the NFL draft. Star center Creed Humphrey may be a target in the second round as other teams do not have such a gaping hole at center. Alex Mack from Atlanta is entering his final years in the league, but his age has not slowed down his play. Either of the two has guard flexibility if Biadasz can grow into a quality center.
The tight end position has been a revolving door in Dallas ever since Jason Witten’s departure. While not a seemingly large need, Mike McCarthy’s offense features tight ends more than other systems. Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz are solid pass-catchers, but neither is athletic enough to be a good fit for the offense.
Rumors have gone around that star tight end Kyle Pitts out of Florida may be taken with the Cowboys’ first-round pick. While that pick should go to more pressing needs on the defense, Pitts would become an immediate favorite of Prescott. His athleticism essentially makes him a fourth receiver on the field. Free-agent veteran, Jared Cook may be the Cowboys’ answer. The 33-year-old can still fly, consistently beating linebackers in coverage. At 6-foot-5, 250-pounds Cook can overpower safeties or corners put on him as well. Older vets are the only players Dallas may be able to bring in through free agency, given the tight cap situation if Dak is re-signed.
The Cowboys defense was an atrocity, to say the least. The porous defense gave up the 5th most points in the league and changes must be made. To start, the trenches must be addressed. The interior of the line is a major issue. Neville Gallimore and Tyrone Crawford combined for 3 sacks. Neither demonstrated any run-stuffing ability either. Other interior linemen Antwaun Woods is a free agent who will not be coming back too.
Cheap options on the market consist of Mike Daniels and Lawrence Guy. Daniels is a few years removed from a Pro Bowl season in Green Bay but still flashed the ability to pressure the quarterback. Guy was a featured part of the New England defense that helped win the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. He excels in stuffing the run and closing off running lanes. Any defensive tackle brought in will become an immediate difference-maker for the penetrable defensive line.
Some may question why the edge position is not brought up due to Aldon Smith leaving during the Cowboys offseason. But Randy Gregory finished his suspension and came back to the team for the back-half of the season. Gregory showed up in his return garnering 3.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hits in limited snaps. He and Demarcus Lawrence will be the main weapons on the defense.
The linebacker group consisting of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch took a significant step back with Mike Nolan as the defensive coordinator. Both were Pro Bowlers the past couple of years but could not produce in the new system. Thankfully, Nolan has been fired and replaced by Dan Quinn, the same coach who developed Deion Jones into a star. The new defensive regime led by Quinn will help revitalize the young linebacking duo.
Finally, the secondary is what needs help. Trevon Diggs got burned multiple times throughout the year. The Alabama product was also tasked with guarding the opposing team’s number one receivers as a rookie with a limited training camp. Diggs showed enough promise to grow into a solid corner at the professional level. Opposite of Diggs, however, is Chidobe Awuzie who will likely be gone come 2021. It will not be a massive loss as Awuzie excelled in zone coverage and did not fit the man-heavy scheme.
Awuzie’s replacement will likely be Patrick Surtain or Caleb Farley through the draft. The top cornerback prospects are immediate starters who have demonstrated to shut down opposing receivers when left on an island. Farley possesses ideal size for the position. The former receiver has top-end speed to keep up with any opposing number ones in the NFL. Surtain is the son of the three-time Pro Bowl Dolphins cornerback. The Alabama product looks to follow in his footsteps with exceptional physicality and technique.
Whoever the Cowboys do take in the draft, do not be surprised when these roster needs are filled on April 29. The lack of cap space to retain Dak means cornerbacks and defensive lineman will likely be drafted by Jerry Jones, creating a young core on the defensive side of the ball.