Mike McCarthy may not have realized what he was walking into as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Or maybe the Cowboys misjudged what they were getting in McCarthy.
Either way - or both ways - after a decade with Jason Garrett at the helm, and Jerry and Stephen Jones calling the shots on personnel, the Cowboys seemed like they entered 2020 as one of the most talented teams in the NFL.
Now, following Monday's 38-10 drubbing at the hands of the Cardinals, we're six games into a slate of games against opponents with a combined record of 10-14, with the team sitting at 2-4, riddled with injuries on offense, and a seeming lack of talent or flexibility on both sides of the ball.
Yet somehow, they are still leaders in a putrid NFC East whose other three teams are a combined 3-14-1.
That's right, an NFL DIVISION LEADER has a defense that has given up a franchise-record in points, is last in the league in points against, last in turnover margin, and in the bottom 10 in the league in total yards against.
Hey, Amari Cooper, do you guys feel fortunate to still be atop the NFC East heap?
"It's hard to feel fortunate as a football team when the fortune is in winning,'' Cooper said, "and we’re not doing that."
In short, the 2020 Cowboys - a few of whom might be willing to admit it - are a glitzy dumpster fire. And there might not be a way out of the greasy alley any time soon.
Dallas was surely aware of the lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball before their opening kickoff against the Los Angeles Rams in September.
After all, they made high-profile signings such as Everson Griffin, Gerald McCoy, Haha Clinton Dix, and Dontari Poe, and invested in reclamation projects like Aldon Smith and (in an ongoing investment) Randy Gregory. They even invested the majority of their seven draft picks in defensive players.
However, with the exception of perhaps Aldon Smith, none of those players have made a real impact. McCoy was lost before the season due to injury, Clinton-Dix was cut, Poe and Griffin have been disappointing, to say the least, Gregory hasn't seen the field (he's eligible next week at Washington), and the draft picks have been underwhelming.
There are/have been players out there such as Ronald Leary, Earl Thomas and Snacks Harrison who could, at least on paper, provide some improvement, but if the Cowboys shunned those ideas.
So where do the Cowboys go from here?
That is very difficult to say. You certainly can't fire a first-year head coach six games into a season. Besides, as we have already mentioned, they are in an extraordinarily tough spot in terms of flexibility. And they lead their division, so they are still technically in a power position in terms of playoff contention.
Tanking is out of the question. They can't in good conscience purposely blow a division lead in order to 'blow it up' and start over. Even if they did, the way to expedite a process like that is to trade veterans, get draft capital back in return, clear cap space, and invest in youth.
Unfortunately, they can't do that, either.
Thanks to the recent extensions of Jaylon Smith, Ezekiel Elliott, Tank Lawrence, Amari Cooper and Zack Martin, the Cowboys have next to no tradeable assets that could constitute a fair return in terms of an exchange. Besides, who is taking Cooper, Smith, Elliott or Lawrence at their long-term deals, anyway?
Connor Williams has been less than ideal at the other guard position, but he likely yields little return value, either. Nor does Leighton Vander Esch (with injury issues), Chidobe Awuzie, Jordan Lewis, or Xavier Woods.
So, as difficult as it may seem, there is not a lot to be done here. The Cowboys are likely stuck with the core they have invested in going forward for the foreseeable future. At least until they get to the 2021 NFL Draft, where things simply must go better than they have the last few years.
Until then, Dallas has to just keep plugging away, and hope they can hold on to the lead in what could be the worst division in NFL history. Dallas is a division-leader and a disaster, all at the same time.