Why Mike McCarthy Is Right in Thinking the Dallas Cowboys Can Take a Step Forward in 2022

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has his eye on the future. The embarrassing Super Wild Card Weekend loss to the San Francisco 49ers is old news. What the Cowboys can do heading into 2022 is all he cares about.

The 2022 season with be McCarthy’s third in Dallas, and he thinks big things are ahead for the Cowboys.

He may be right.

The Dallas Cowboys face an offseason of disappointment and uncertainty

Mike McCarthy, Head Coach Dallas Cowboys
Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys reacts as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Texans | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Losing in the first round of the playoffs can’t be considered rock bottom because there were 18 teams that would have loved to have been in the Cowboys’ position on Wild Card Weekend. Maybe it wasn’t rock bottom, but it sure felt like a major setback for Dallas.

The Cowboys had legitimate hopes to compete for a Super Bowl after a 12-5 regular season and NFC East Crown. They boasted the top statistical offense in yards per game (407) and points per game (31.2). They also boasted a nasty defense that led the league in turnovers.

When owner Jerry Jones called the first-round exit a letdown, he meant it.

The Cowboys far from lived up to expectations in the playoffs, and now they’ll have an offseason full of questions.

They are likely to lose both their offensive and defensive coordinator to better opportunities, with Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn both considered hot targets on the open head coaching market. They also have 21 players hitting free agency, a list that includes Dalton Schultz, Leighton Vander Esch, Randy Gregory, and Michael Gallup.

The biggest question has to be about the culture in Dallas, though, and why Jones can throw millions of dollars at his roster but the Cowboys continue to fall short of expectations.

Mike McCarthy is confident he and the Cowboys can take a step forward

Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys head coach
Head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during training camp | Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

One would think a lot of the responsibility for culture-building lies on the head coach, and to his credit, McCarthy didn’t shy away from his qualifications even in the shadow of the demoralizing playoff loss.

“I understand what goes on here every day. I know how to win. I know how to win in this league. I know how to win playoff games. I know how to win a championship. So I have great confidence in that,” he said, according to ESPN. “What we’ve built here in two seasons, I feel very good about, and I think with that you just stay true to that.

The head coach relayed that he’s confident in Dallas’ personnel department, and he does have reason to be.

The 2022 NFL Draft saw the Cowboys snag Micah Parsons with the No. 12 pick and he’ll be a superstar for years to come. The 2020 draft was also a rousing success. Dallas picked up CeeDee Lamb with the 17th overall pick and then followed that up by drafting Trevon Diggs in the second round.

Lamb is an ascending star, having finished in the top 20 of both receptions and receptions yards this season. Diggs has no reason to ascend to superstardom because he’s already there. He snagged 11 interceptions on his way to Pro-Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

“[We’ll] count on another really excellent draft class to go with the two that we have. No, you got to remember, I’ve coached the youngest team in the league for a number of years. I have great belief in that draft and develop. This will probably hopefully be the first year that we can have a normal offseason program, so I think with that, the combination of veteran and young players we have, I think we definitely can take a step forward,” McCarthy said, explaining his optimism for 2022.

McCarthy is right to be optimistic for the future of the Cowboys

On paper, McCarthy and the Cowboys have a lot to be excited about.

Say what you will about Dak Prescott and whether or not he’s worth $40 million a year. He finished the regular season seventh in passing yards (4,449) and tied for fourth in touchdowns thrown with Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Tossing 37 touchdowns alongside Mahomes and Rodgers is not half-bad company.

Ezekiel Elliott was banged up for much of the season, but he still rushed for 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was one of only seven running backs to break 1,000 yards rushing.

That’s a dynamic veteran backfield duo that should be able to carry Dallas into the future. Throw in the emergence of Lamb on offense and Parsons and Diggs on defense, and the Cowboys have to be feeling good about their youth movement, and that’s not even considering who they can draft in 2022.

Dallas has a talented core. There’s no doubt about it. We haven’t even touched on a player like Amari Cooper, who is signed through 2024 but does have a potential out Dallas may want to explore in 2022 for cap purposes. The core of a Super Bowl team is there for Dallas. That core becomes even stronger if players like Vander Esch and Schultz are brought back in free agency, and the Cowboys find a way to make the cap work regarding Cooper.

McCarthy is right. He does have reason to believe the Cowboys will take a step forward in 2022. Can he coach his talented roster and get them to not only play up to expectations but to exceed them as well?

He seems to believe in himself, but only time will tell. One can’t imagine Jones is feeling all that patient.

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Reference. Contract information via Sportrac.

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