The Dallas Cowboys 2020 season was supposed to go a lot differently. They revamped the coaching staff which was highlighted by the hiring of Mike McCarthy as the successor to Jason Garrett. Several defensive free agents were added and there was tremendous optimism after a successful NFL Draft that figured CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs being selected in the first two rounds.
It all looked lovely on paper, but unfortunately, reality sat in for the Cowboys very quickly. A plethora of injuries to key contributors seemed to come about weekly and they finished a dismal 6-10, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. However, the staff at ESPN doesn't see that happening in 2021 as they have predicted that the Cowboys will return to the playoffs, and they'll do so by securing the third seed in the conference and winning the NFC East.
ESPN Staff Writer Bill Barnwell on the Cowboy's outlook for next season.
“The Cowboys should be healthier in 2021, and we saw their offense's upside while Prescott was in the lineup. They have the highest upside of any team in the division, and if they can fix the secondary this offseason, their ceiling might be as Super Bowl contenders. Of course, as we saw in 2020, few teams seem better at getting in their own way or creating their own problems.
“Prescott hadn't ever missed a game before his freak injury, so if we expect him to play something close to a full season in 2021, the Cowboys should be in good shape to win their division.”
There's no question that changes have to be made on both sides of the ball if the Cowboys are to be a factor next season.
Defensively, they have to find another productive presence on the interior of the defensive line to go along with Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill, and Antwaun Woods. Sean Lee and Leighton Vander Esch both missed significant time in 2020, and with Jaylon Smith's play trending downward, the linebacker spot is one that needs to be addressed. Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods will all be unrestricted free agents, leaving several potential holes in the secondary.
On the offensive side of the ball, it's all about health. La'el Collins missed the entire season, Tryon Smith only played in two games, and Zack Martin missed six games and the offensive line never fully recovered. Blake Jarwin, who was set to breakout at the tight end position, suffered a torn ACL in the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams. The biggest loss was Dak Prescott. He had 1,856 yards in just five games and became the first quarterback in NFL history with three consecutive performances of 450 yards or more.
The Cowboys have the 10th overall pick in April's NFL Draft so they have a great opportunity to add some premium talent. Their first four picks of last year's draft all made significant contributions in 2020, and they'll need more of the same in a few months if they're to take the NFC East crown back.