Cowboys' Biggest Keys to Having Successful NFL Offseason
Few teams should be happier to close the book on 2020 and head into 2021 with a fresh start. The Dallas Cowboys were among the most disappointing teams this season and will have the opportunity to regroup as the NFL heads into the offseason. Some of Dallas's woes were self-inflicted. There are few excuses for the defense to be below-average for a second consecutive season. From poor coaching to disappointing performances from individual players, the Cowboys failed to get appreciably better on that side of the ball. Some of the issues were just plain bad luck. Losing Dak Prescott for the season, the offensive line being forced to deal with multiple injuries and another injury to Andy Dalton threw a wrench in the offense getting any consistency. So, while the Cowboys' season was disappointing, it's important to note that all is not lost. They are just a year removed from finishing one place behind the Eagles in the NFC East, and they are the odds-on favorite to win the NFC East, according to DraftKings Sportsbook . They'll have to carefully navigate the offseason to keep that status. With some tough decisions to make and a shaky cap situation, there isn't a lot of room for error. If you had to pinpoint the reason why the Cowboys are the favorite to win the division despite their struggles in 2020, it really comes down to one reason: Dak Prescott. Looking across the division, there isn't a quarterback nearly as talented and proven as Prescott. Washington will have to move on from Alex Smith, the Eagles are going to have to hope Jalen Hurts is the guy moving forward, and the Giants are still left wondering if Daniel Jones is actually good. Prescott is unquestionably the best quarterback in the division, but the Cowboys were unable to reach terms on a multi-year commitment to their signal-caller last offseason. Instead, he played on the franchise tag for what ended up being an injury-shortened year. The Cowboys can't afford to continue to play hardball with their franchise quarterback. Yes, he has only won one playoff game, but the regular-season success is undeniable. And the Cowboys will be giving up their biggest advantage if they were to move on from the 27-year-old, even if it's not their idea. Tagging Prescott is an option again, but it isn't a good one. First, the second tag would cost the team over $37 million because it would be a raise over the tag he played under in the 2020 season. Second, that will continue to cause a rift between the franchise and its biggest star. Instead, the Cowboys have to come to terms on a long-term deal. It would likely cost them less money in Year 1, which will be important because they have just $27.9 million in projected space, per Spotrac . Last year, the Cowboys truly went with a "best player available" approach in the NFL draft when they took CeeDee Lamb in the first round. Despite having Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the roster, the Oklahoma product's talent was too much to pass up. It's hard to fault them for that. Lamb could wind up being on the roster longer than both of them. The 2021 draft has to see them add an elite defensive player, though. The Cowboys offense is loaded with star players and a top-five collection of skill players. The defense, however, is desperate for young players fans can get excited about. The Cowboys utilized their second-, third- and fourth-round picks on the defensive side of the ball last year, which is a good start to building that side of the ball, but they need a similar draft with a strong headliner to keep heading in that direction. The good news is the Cowboys are in a decent position to add a difference-maker. They have the 10th pick but so many of the expected top-10 prospects in the draft are offensive players. At the very least, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson are expected to be to the top quarterbacks taken. Wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith could join that group, and offensive tackle Penei Sewell is likely a lock. Throw in a surprise quarterback, and suddenly the Cowboys could have their choice of linebacker Micah Parsons, defensive end Kwity Paye or Patrick Surtain II. Any of those three would be a great centerpiece to a draft class that should be heavy on defense again. Once you factor in Dallas coming to some agreement with Dak Prescott, there isn't a whole lot of money left. The Cowboys don't figure to be in the running for any of the big-name free agents. While it's fun to speculate what those fits would look like, the reality is they are going to have to be bargain-bin shoppers. That doesn't mean they can't find help, though. Last year, they were able to identify some veterans on the cheap, they just didn't work out. They signed HaHa Clinton-Dix to a one-year, $2.3 million dollar deal and cut him before the first game of the season. They brought in Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy, but the latter got injured and the former was cut after seven tackles in seven games. It would be easy to say they made the wrong decision by signing these aging veterans, but that's a product of not having a ton of cap space. If the Cowboys are to take advantage of a bad NFC East, they'll need to once again supplement with some aging veterans who are willing to play for less money. They could turn to McCoy again if the soon-to-be 33-year-old has recovered from his injury, and 35-year-old Ty Nsekhe has been solid when called upon to play tackle for the Bills . These are the kind of players Dallas can bring in to add depth and prevent all the fallout from injuries it experienced last year. The Cowboys have to get to a better place financially this offseason, but they can't ignore free agency entirely. Signing some key veterans to one-year deals is a good way to accomplish their goals. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER ( 1-800-426-2537 ) (IL). Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ/WV/PA), 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN), 1-800-522-4700 (CO), 1-800-BETS OFF (IA), or call or text the TN REDLINE: 800-889-9789 (TN). 21+. NJ/PA/WV/IN/IA/CO/IL/TN only. In partnership with Meadows Racetrack & Casino. Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.