The 2020 season was a disaster for the Dallas Cowboys. Superstar quarterback Dak Prescott went out for the season with a devastating injury, and nothing after that seemed to go right for first-year head coach Mike McCarthy and the ‘Boys.
In 2021, Prescott returned, McCarthy found his footing — with the help of coordinators Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore — players like CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs had breakout seasons, and first-round pick Micah Parsons became a bona fide star.
The Dallas Cowboys finally coalesced as owner Jerry Jones envisioned putting the team together in recent years. However, they still couldn’t quite get it done and disappointingly crashed out in the Wild Card Round. That means back to the drawing board in Big D for next season.
Here’s the plan of attack for the Dallas Cowboys during the 2022 NFL offseason.
Biggest offseason questions
The good news is, the Cowboys don’t have any wildly obvious flaws that cost them a Super Bowl this season. This is also the bad news, though, as that means that there is not a magic bullet or silver wand that can fix the Cowboys’ problems before the 2022 campaign.
Figuring out how to improve in 2022 without major flaws to address leads to two specific questions in the offseason.
How does owner Jerry Jones and his son/Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President/ Director of Player Personnel (seriously, those are all his titles), Stephen Jones, keep the talent on the team together while fixing the things that cost them the Lombardi Trophy?
It is absolutely a tightrope act, but one that Jerry and company navigated well in the 1990s.
Also, what do you do with the head coach?
Mike McCarthy is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses with his time-management and decision-making, especially at the end of games. That makes him the most obviously fixable piece of the team right now.
It’s hard to fire a coach after a 12-5 season. But will the Jones’ let defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore walk out the door and leave McCarthy alone at the wheel?
Top free-agency decisions
Key free agents: Michael Gallup (WR), Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Randy Gregory (EDGE), Dalton Schultz (TE), Connor Williams (OG)
The Dallas Cowboys — like all NFL teams — had their ups and downs in 2021. However, unlike some other teams, when the Cowboys struggled, it was due to coaching, level of play, or execution. It wasn’t from a lack of talent.
The Cowboys are loaded with talent across the board. Sure, the Jones’ can always upgrade around the edges, but 2022 free agency in Dallas isn’t about bringing in the missing piece. It’s about not letting too much talent walk.
This is particularly challenging for the franchise nowadays as the highest-paid players on the roster’s cap figures continue to rise.
WR Michael Gallup tore his ACL at the end of the regular season, and Cedrick Wilson seems ready to step up, so Gallup could be done in Dallas. Leighton Vander Esch and Randy Gregory would be nice to have back, but that might mean moving on from other vets like DeMarcus Lawrence and Amari Cooper.
Connor Williams is a must-sign player as a key cog on the O-line, and budding star tight end Dalton Schultz is the most likely of all the FA’s to be back in 2022.
Schultz is a good franchise tag candidate next season and, whether they tag him or not, bringing him back will save the Cowboys $4.25 million by cutting the oft-injured TE Blake Jarwin.
2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets
Top picks: First round (own), second round (own), third round (own), fourth round (own), fifth round (own), sixth round (own)
Draft needs: DT, EDGE, LB, S, TE
The Dallas Cowboys will draft at the back end of almost every round, as they have all their own picks this year except for the last one.
Cutting Blake Jarwin means the Cowboys should draft a tight end at some point, but the pressing matter for Dallas is the defense. With some big free agents and aging vets, Stephen and Jerry Jones should focus on building the defense’s talent, depth, and competition.
Where the Cowboys pick in the first round, linebacker, safety, or edge rusher are the most likely picks.
If Georgia LB Nakobe Dean falls to their pick, the Cowboys will snap him up as a Leighton Vander Esch replacement and perfect long-term partner for Micah Parsons.
On the defensive backfield front, Penn State’s physical Jaquan Brisker or Michigan’s speedy Daxton Hill would be the best picks at safety.
As for pass-rusher, there should be plenty of options here. It will all depend on how they perform at the combine and what skill set the (likely) new DC prefers. Options here could include Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State), Drake Johnson (USC), Travon Walker (Georgia), or Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State)
1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022
Offensively, the player that needs to step up in 2022 is quarterback Dak Prescott. The QB, who signed a big extension this offseason, was good this season.
However, he was inconsistent at times, and to live up to being one of the highest-paid signal-callers in the NFL, he needs to do better. If the Dallas D continues to improve, maybe the team can win a Super Bowl with a B or B+ QB like Prescott. Until the other side of the ball proves that, though, Prescott will need to up his game into the A or A+ category to win the big one in 2022.
Trevon Diggs had a phenomenal, All-Pro season in 2021, but he is the defensive player who needs to step up (again) in 2022.
The electrifying cornerback led the league in interceptions (11) and interception return yards (142). That said, he also allowed the most yards (962) of any CB in the last 16 years, per PFF.
Interceptions come and go in the NFL, so if Diggs cant get his hands on as many balls next season, he could become a major liability. If he can keep up his ball-hawking ways while also locking down receivers more, he could become the total package and make the Cowboys’ defense truly great.