When the 2020 season starts, the Dallas Cowboys will have a completely different look and direction from 2019. Of course, like any other season in the NFL, there will be plenty of turnover and new players on the roster. In the case of the Cowboys, they're getting a complete facelift on the field and on the sidelines.
New Head Coach Mike McCarthy brings an in your face approach that has brought him much success on the NFL level. In his 13 years in Green Bay, his team was a regular participant in the postseason. Making nine playoff appearances with included four NFC Championship Game appearances and winning Super Bowl XLV in 2010, McCarthy knows what it takes to reach the mountain top in the pro ranks. Now, he embarks on a new journey to turn the Cowboys into contenders once again, and he has plenty to work with.
The Cowboys had the number one offense in the NFL in 2019 under first-year Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore.
Quarterback Dak Prescott saw his numbers go through the roof this season. He set career highs in yards (4,902) and touchdown passes (30). He led the league in passing yards for the first 15 weeks until eventually being edged out by Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston. Moore really took the shackles off and let Prescott's true arm talent be put on display, unlike the days of former OC Scott Linehan. McCarthy has been around some of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time during his coaching days such as Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers. I have no doubt he'll bring the best out of Prescott.
Ezekiel Elliott is coming off another excellent season, albeit under the radar. The two-time rushing champion finishing fourth in rushing (1,357), tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (12), second in all-purpose yards (1,777), and tied for first in 100-yard games (7). Mind you, he did this while playing with the NFL's second-leading passer and two 1,100-yard receivers, which doesn't happen often. During his introductory press conference almost a week ago, McCarthy made it clear that Elliott would indeed get his touches.
“I think first off with Zeke, he’s going to get the football,” McCarthy said. “Let’s make no mistake about that. I think you have to clearly understand when you saw the offense is going to make a quarterback successful, the best play to make him successful is a great run game. We clearly understand what we have here and how we could build off of that.”
Elliott has 5,405 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns in his first four seasons (missed six games in 2017 due to a suspension). McCarthy couldn't ask for a better running back to have in his backfield.
The wide receiver room was extremely productive this season. Amari Cooper had 1,189 yards, eight touchdowns and averaged 15.1 yards per catch, all career highs. Michael Gallup doubled his production from his rookie season in catches (66), yards (1,107), and touchdowns (6). Randall Cobb, who played for McCarthy for eight seasons in Green Bay, had 55 receptions for 828 yards and three touchdowns as a third option. Cooper will be the most important player to retain outside of Prescott. He's made it clear that he wants to be in Dallas long-term. Also, Cobb is set to hit the open market as well. Bringing Cooper back and adding another receiver in the draft or free agency will have the Cowboys air attack rolling again next season.
The Cowboys offensive line is loaded with big-time performers. Tyron Smith made his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl in 2019 and continued his reputation as one of the best-left tackles in the league. Zack Martin was his usual dominant self, making his sixth consecutive All-Pro team (four first-team, two second-team) and holding down the top spot for guards league-wide. Travis Frederick bounced back after missing all of 2018 with Guillian-Barre Syndrome. He made his fifth Pro Bowl and re-established himself as one of if not the best center in the NFL. A pleasant surprise this season was the progression of Right Tackle La'el Collins. He was one of the best at his position in 2019, proving that the five-year 50 million dollar extension with 35 million in guarantees just prior to the season was warranted.
Blake Jarwin is seemingly the heir apparent to Jason Witten at tight end. It was clear in 2019 that Jarwin was the more dynamic option at the position but for some reason, Witten got the majority of the snaps. I fully expect that to be different in 2020.
Defensively, the Cowboys took a slight step back from the top seven-unit they were in 2018. Although they finished ninth overall ( 11th vs the run, 10th vs the pass) they allowed several teams to jump out to double-digit leads early that the Cowboys couldn't recover from. Even with that being said, McCarthy still has pieces to work with.
DeMarcus Lawrence is where it all starts on the line of scrimmage coming off the edge. He didn't have the outstanding sack totals he had from the previous two years when he reached double digits (only had five in 2019) but he was still solid vs the run while dealing with plenty of double teams. I expect another season over 10 sacks for him in 2020.
Also, there's Robert Quinn who lines up opposite Lawrence. He showed out in 2019 with 11.5 sacks in 14 games. Set to hit the free-agent market himself, I'm sure he'll be one of the first priorities when it comes to retaining talent on this roster.
The defensive tackle position is one the Cowboys have yet to fully address for whatever reason. Antwaun Woods is a solid 1-technique as a run-stopper and Maliek Collins, who's set to be a free agent, has his moments as well. However, there isn't enough consistency on the interior which affects the production of a guy like Lawrence who receives so many double teams. With the futures of Collins and veteran Michael Bennett uncertain going forward, this will be a position that will require some of the most work to get right for McCarthy.
There should be some optimism that McCarthy can sure up the defensive line considering five of his first-round picks during his days in Green Bay were defensive lineman. With free agency approaching, the NFL Draft in April, and the few pieces already on the roster, McCarthy can easily build a solid unit in the trenches for 2020.
The linebacker position is pretty solid as well for the Cowboys. Jaylon Smith had another productive year with 142 tackles and 2.5 sacks while receiving his first Pro Bowl nod. Leighton Vander Esch was having a pretty good season himself until a neck injury, which has been diagnosed as spinal stenosis, forced him to miss seven games. The Cowboys are optimistic seeing as the surgery he had to fix the issue was minor, but with an area like the neck, you can't be too careful. Sean Lee was pretty solid as the number three linebacker this season. He had huge games vs the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7 and New York Giants in Week 9 proving there's still a little something left in the tank from “The General” as he's called. He is set to be a free agent so it'll be interesting to see what the plan is for his future.
The secondary has been much maligned for years now but there are some good pieces to work with. Byron Jones, who was a second-team All-Pro in 2018, was solid once again in 2019. He'll never blow you away with creating turnovers, with only two interceptions and three forced fumbles in his first five seasons, but he's still a very good starting point if you're building a defensive backfield. Jones will be another name the Cowboys will look to strike a long-term deal with this offseason as he prepares to enter free agency.
Jourdan Lewis is the hidden gem of this unit. His lack of size, being only 5'10, kept him from showing what he could do under the guidance of Kris Richard, who likes taller defensive backs. However, when Anthony Brown went down for the season with a torn triceps, Lewis took full advantage of his opportunity. Appearing in all 16 games with five starts, Lewis finished with 51 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions with six passes defended. This gives the Cowboys a potential number one option at corner if Jones leaves in free agency.
Xavier Woods is the top dog at safety. He's coming off his best season as a pro with 77 tackles, five passes defended, and two interceptions. Jeff Heath isn't going to blow you away with numbers, but he's a very good special teams contributor and a decent number two option at safety.
Rookie Safety Donovan Wilson is a bullet in the chamber for McCarthy. A six-foot defensive back with the ability to play slot corner as well as safety down in the box.
So as you can see, McCarthy has plenty of toys to play with in regards to his new roster. Also, he's already assembling a very good coaching staff with names like Mike Nolan, John Fassel, and Joe Philbin on board. The combination of one of the best rosters in the league and a proven coaching staff gives McCarthy a great shot to have the Cowboys back in the playoffs in 2020.