When the Dallas Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy last January to be its new head coach, the thought was that his pedigree of winning from his previous stop in Green Bay would carry over, but 2020 was a trainwreck from the start in Dallas.
The coronavirus pandemic completely changed the process that goes into a football season. With limited access to team facilities, McCarthy and his staff had to implement schemes virtually, and it was clear all season long how far it set them back. Also, injuries to major contributors on offense as well as failed experiments with veteran defensive free agents didn't make life any easier.
McCarthy described his inaugural season in Dallas as “uniquely challenging”.
“You just never totally had your hands around the changing environment of your workplace,” McCarthy said, via ESPN. “I think like all of us, especially in this industry, you really put your time and energy and you bite into the things you can control. Really to have one of the primary components that helps you prepare for success be a moving target, it was definitely something that none of us have experienced.
“I don't like the word ‘overwhelming' because it puts you in a mode where you didn't think you could handle it. I think we did more than handled it. I do admire and respect, particularly our players, but really our staff for everything that they've done to make this season get to this point. It's about winning. Don't get me wrong. I clearly understand our record and everything. But there was a lot of things that we didn't see coming.”
Regardless of what the Cowboys had to deal with, a 6-10 record is unacceptable. McCarthy realizes that it's time to focus on 2021 and get the organization back to being a competitive one.
“Every year is different. Every team is different,” McCarthy said on Monday. “Having the opportunity to meet with our veterans, four years or more today, the positive energy and vibe that these men have towards what we are and how we are doing it. To a man, they are looking forward to the next challenge. But we need to go back and start on Page 1. That is the way I have always done it. When you take things for granted, you are really setting yourself up for failure.
“We have a lot of work to do.”
McCarthy hit the nail on the head with that statement. The biggest elephant in the room is the long-term security of Dak Prescott, which needs to be handled expeditiously. There's still a need on the interior defensive line, an area that's been a problem for years. Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee both missed significant time with injuries, and Jaylon Smith took a step back, making the linebacker position one of importance in the NFL Draft.
The Cowboys secondary has a bright future going forward with rookie Cornerback Trevon Diggs and second-year Safety Donovan Wilson. However, veterans Xavier Woods, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, so major decisions will have to be made there.
The offensive line was a complete disaster. La'el Collins didn't play all season after hip surgery, Tyron Smith was done by October with a neck injury, and Zack Martin didn't log a snap after Thanksgiving as he dealt with a calf issue. All three are expected to be back and fully healthy for 2021. However, using resources on the offensive line in the draft, especially with Smith and Martin having major miles on their football bodies, has to be considered.
Even when things don't go as planned there can be positives to take from it. During an appearance on 105.3 The Fan on Friday, McCarthy talked about enjoying the Jones family and being all-in on the structure of the organization.
“I really enjoy Jerry and Stephen, their outlook on the NFL,” McCarthy said, via the team's website. “What's been built here with the Dallas Cowboys is unique, strong, powerful and it's a tremendous responsibility that I take very seriously. Things are very clear on how we want to approach things. The communication is good. They're very respectful to the vision of the football program that I've implemented here.
“I really like the structure and the communication and just the way we operate. They're all about winning, but they are a family-first approach and mindset. That's something I truly believe in and that's the way I've always coached and installed a football program as a head coach. And they have that established here already.
“I really enjoy this part of it. The only disappointment I have is that we were 6-10.”
2020 will go down as one of the most frustrating seasons in Cowboys history, especially when factoring in the expectations that were placed on them. It won't get any easier for McCarthy in year two, but then again it never does when you're coaching America's Team.