According to my sources, the Dallas Cowboys didn't have a very good year in 2020. They enter this next offseason desperate to get back to being a competitive team and have some big decisions to make along the way. But as intriguing as 2021 will be for Dallas, it may just be the calm before a tempestuous 2022 offseason.
Dak Prescott's free agency is certainly a dominant story for the Cowboys and the greater NFL news cycle. But while Dak's future certainly has a colossal impact on the franchise, the rest of this 2021 offseason isn't likely to see many massive changes to the roster.
Sure, previous starters like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods are entering free agency. You also have longtime Cowboys like Sean Lee and Tyrone Crawford whose futures are in question. And Dallas needs to decide on the 5th-year option for Leighton Vander Esch. But outside of Prescott, any potential departures and subsequent replacements in 2021 aren't likely to move the needle significantly for the team on their own merit.
There has also been talk of potential salary cap casualties with players like Tyron Smith and Jaylon Smith. And while there's no cap space to be gained, some have even suggested Dallas should dump Ezekiel Elliott on sheer principle after a down season.
If you're someone looking for the Cowboys to blow it up after the frustrations of 2020 then you're going to be disappointed. But if you're patient, you may get your wish a year from now.
This upcoming season will be pivotal for several players and perhaps Head Coach Mike McCarthy as well. If Dallas doesn't get back to playoff contention in 2021 then a major overhaul of this team is probably coming.
It's reasonable that the Cowboys would give this current group one more shot. After all, McCarthy's first offseason with Dallas was severely impacted by the pandemic and then injuries rocked the roster to its core.
Moving on from Jason Garrett to McCarthy last year was based on a belief that this was a good roster which needed a better coach. While 2020 didn't speak well for McCarthy, it's fair to say the jury is still out given all that he had to overcome.
Dallas is banking on better roster health and consistency at head coach, plus a change at defensive coordinator from Mike Nolan to Dan Quinn, to be the biggest solutions to 2020's problems. But if 2021 is another down year, then Jerry Jones may push the big red button.
Next year, the cap savings on Tyron and Jaylon Smith's contracts will be even greater with less dead money. Releasing Tyron outright in 2021 would create about $5.2 million in cap space while Jaylon would have to be a June-1st cut to get any cap relief.
In 2022, Dallas could gain about $10 million by cutting Tyron and $5 million from Jaylon. All of that money could then be used in the prime free agency period in March.
2022 is also the first year when releasing Ezekiel Elliott would be beneficial to the salary cap. Dallas could get back a little under $6 million if he's released outright and then over $12 million as a June-1st cut.
At that point you could even start looking at other high-dollar players like Amari Cooper, Zack Martin, and DeMarcus Lawrence if their 2021 performances or other circumstances hurt their perceived value.
Again, most of these will likely be topics for a year from now. While some are already wanting throw in the towel on players like Zeke, Tyron, and Jaylon, the conservative Cowboys front office will likely draw a few new cards in 2021 but keep most of their current hand.
It will be interesting to see how this upcoming season unfolds and how the team performs that decides if a major rebuild begins. Next year will be a much better opportunity for sweeping change based on where various key players will be in their contracts.
You can bet that simply winning the NFC East, especially if it only takes 6-7 wins again, isn't going to be enough to satisfy the Joneses this time.