DALLAS - Most, if not all, Dallas Cowboys fans are ready to leave the 2020 season in the past and look ahead to 2021. I get it... 10 losses, a season-ending injury to Dak Prescott, fumbles galore and a bottom-barrel defense that led to the firing of coordinator Mike Nolan.
A new season means a fresh slate. In 2021, fans can look forward to Prescott’s pending long-term contract and healthy comeback, the 10th overall selection in the NFL Draft, reinstalling the 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and the returns of key players.
How would you describe the Cowboys' future in one word and why? Our Cowboys at Sports Illustrated staff gives their picks:
“D-a-k” - Mike Fisher
One word. Three letters. And $40 million. The Cowboys can afford to change coordinators, head coaches and even front-office decision-makers - and over the years have done all three - but this franchise has been shown to be uber-dependent on one player ... maybe like never before you and its 61-year history.
That arguably speaks to a lack of depth on this roster. But without quarterback Dak Prescott, The Cowboys have shown themselves to be a subpar roster ... or at least a sub-performing one.
Dak fixes all of that.
The Star deflated when Dak went down. Leave him unsigned and then tagged again ... and a dark cloud will hang over the building.
Dallas has been “close” on this for two years. Owner Jerry Jones now concedes all “the leverage” in negotiations.
The Cowboys can “lose” negotiations here by “winning” Dak. And The Star inflates. And the dark cloud floats away.
"Same-Old" - Matthew Postins
The Cowboys fired the defensive coordinator because they hired him to install a system he didn't have the personnel to run it with. Aldon Smith was touted as a great risk-reward signing, and it was ... for four games. Dak Prescott has 'all the leverage' as Jerry has said. But what do you want to bet he ends up franchising Prescott again because they can't get a long-term deal done? And the Cowboys couldn't even 'organic tank' properly in December.
You're optimistic? That's great. I'm not. It's just the Same-Old.
"Hope" - Richie Whitt
Notice I didn't use "faith" or "confidence." Because when your team has gone a quarter-century without sniffing a Super Bowl, those tend to vanish from your vocabulary. But there are legitimate reasons to be hopeful. Signing Dak Prescott to a long-term contract. The return of healthy offensive linemen Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Zack Martin. The 10th overall draft pick, which should provide a defensive starter. But, mostly, hope that the defense can't get any worse with new coordinator Dan Quinn. They allowed a franchise-worst 57 touchdowns in 2020. When they were lifting trophies in 1992 - a level we hope they can return to - they allowed only 29. Happy hoping!
"Revamp" - Bri Amaranthus
The Cowboys' improvements cannot just be surface level in order to have a shot at a better season in 2021. I chose the word revamp because the definition is, 'to give a new form by improving the structure'. While a high NFL draft pick and key players returning from injury will undoubtedly help... The structure of the current Dallas team is flawed with many questions to be answered in the upcoming months.
Changing the structure is the responsibility of the coaching staff. A goal without a plan is just a dream. Hiring Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator and simplifying the "multiple" defense back to a 4-3 is a good start. If COVID-19 protocols are still a damper on training camps, coach Mike McCarthy is going to have to figure out a way to get the Cowboys on the same page and communicating BEFORE the start of the season. If a winning structure is in place, the Cowboys are lucky to have a leader like Dak Prescott who can take this organization far with the right framework.
"Uncertain" - Matt Galatzan
Just one year into the Mike McCarthy era, the Dallas Cowboys already have a good deal of uncertainty ahead of them. After a disastrous 6-10 season with their new coaching staff, the cowboys have already made sweeping changes in an attempt to fix their defensive issues, hiring Dan Quinn to run the defense, along with bringing in Joe Whitt Jr as defensive passing game coordinator, and George Edwards as a defensive assistant. But with Dallas likely to return with largely the same personnel, their ceiling in that end of the field is likely limited.
There is uncertainty on the offensive end as well, with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who just signed a contract extension, being requested by the Eagles to interview for their vacant head coaching position. Not to mention the looming contract negations of Dak Prescott, and the injury issues along the offensive line.
In terms of the offseason, the team’s overall cap situation in regards to bringing in free agency help on both sides of the ball remains in question as well due to, among other things, the Prescott extension. And then of course there is the NFL draft, where the Cowboys select 10th overall, and could decide to go in any number of directions, due to their vast needs on both sides of the ball.
Those uncertainties make it difficult to project the Cowboys future, not only in the short term, but in the long term as well.
Intersection - Tomer Barazani
After yet another disappointing season, the Dallas Cowboys now sit with many questions and decisions to make that will determine the future.
While there are many concerns on both sides of the ball, quarterback Dak Prescott should be the top priority for Jerry Jones.
Entering the 2021 NFL season, the Cowboys will once again be faced with the decision to extend Dak or not. Another tag is worth $38 million. A longer-term APY seems likely worth $40 million.
On the other side of the road, lies a completely different future for America's team with potentially drafting a quarterback or looking elsewhere. This intersection could be the turning point that this franchise has been looking for. That is, if Jerry Jones takes the right turn.
Cheers to a happy, healthy and hopefully successful 2021 to you, yours and the Cowboys!