The Cowboys’ 2018 season ended last night with a disappointing playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. And though it doesn’t feel like it today, Dallas can approach this it offseason with a lot of optimism and confidence for the future.
Today isn’t even the darkest point of the season. Sure, a playoff loss is discouraging. But the Cowboys were on the road against a team that went 13-3 and was well rested after their bye week. The Rams were the better team, by all measures, and they simply did what they were supposed to do.
No, the darkest hour for Dallas in 2018 came after Week 9. Coming off their bye week and having just added Amari Cooper, the Cowboys fell flat at home against the Tennessee Titans. The team seemed lost and unmotivated, and the fall to 3-5 felt like more than just another bad day.
Don’t forget the mood following that game. Jason Garrett seemed closer to being fired than ever before, and even Dak Prescott’s future with the Cowboys was in question. There was a sense that Jerry Jones might blow the whole thing up.
But then a came a road win in Philadelphia. Then another in Atlanta. The Cooper trade started paying dividends and the Cowboys started looking like a different team.
Even the win on Thanksgiving over Washington, which raised Dallas’ record to 6-5, didn’t erase all concerns. The Redskins, Eagles, and Falcons were all average-or-less teams. Many felt the Cowboys were just padding their record against the weak.
And then they beat the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints, winners of 10-straight games and 10-1 overall, could barely function offensively against the Cowboys’ defense. It was one of the biggest upsets of 2018 and a sign that there was something special happening in Dallas.
The Cowboys went from a 3-5 disappointment to a 10-6 division champion. They won a playoff game against a Seattle Seahawks team that many felt were superior.
And even last night, down 20-7 and seemingly outmatched in every way, Dallas kept fighting.
There will be an entire offseason to work on the technical issues that hurt the Cowboys this year. A new offensive coordinators, hopefully getting Travis Frederick back, development across the board for a very young defense; these and other things can all be addressed in the months ahead.
But a team’s personality and spirit, those aren’t so easy to change. And what we saw from Dallas this year says that this team has all the heart needed to win a championship.
Some of that came from Kris Richard, the unofficial defensive coordinator who appears close to staying with the Cowboys now instead of taking a head coaching job elsewhere. While the Dallas’ defense was good in 2017, it rose to a new level this year.
If Richard is back next season, and if Dallas can find some better X’s and O’s on offense, then this is a coaching staff who can win a championship.
In only 15 games this year, and despite numerous health issues on the offensive line and a weak passing attack, Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing. He reminded any who doubted it after 2017 that he is the best pure runner in the game, and he’ll back next year.
Dak Prescott has plenty of warts as a quarterback, and hopefully some of those will get worked out this offseason. But he established himself as the true leader of the team this year, filling the void left by Jason Witten’s retirement. He never quits and his teammates never quit on him, and that’s vital for any team seeking playoff success.
Dallas’ trade for Amari Cooper, even at the high price of a first-round pick and his impending new contract, seems to have been the right move. He opened up the offense and now gives Dallas a true nucleus to build on, rather than a big hole to fill.
Even without that first-rounder in the 2019 draft, the Cowboys will still have plenty of resources to work with this offseason.
They have enough cap space to work with and can create more with some simple moves, such as releasing Sean Lee. They will need to figure out DeMarcus’ Lawrence contact and decide if they want to re-sign Cole Beasley, but the roster gets pretty easy to deal with from there.
So yes, this can be a time of optimism. We’re all licking last night’s wound, but disappointment shouldn’t lead to despair.
The wait of another offseason isn’t fun, but your Dallas Cowboys are closer to a championship right now than they’ve been in a long time.