DALLAS — The 2019 NFL season is finally in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can turn the page on a disappointing year. There is work to be done to get back to a championship level and the team will be doing it with a new coach.
For the first time since 2011, the Cowboys will be heading in a new direction with Mike McCarthy taking the reins. McCarthy’s arrival comes during a time where the team has big decisions to be made on several key players. We’ll soon get a better sense of what McCarthy has in mind for the future of the Cowboys.
Here’s a game plan (pre-draft) for McCarthy and the Cowboys to follow in order to get the team back into position to compete for the Super Bowl in 2020.
Sign Dak Prescott to a long-term deal
The top priority for the Cowboys this offseason is to get Prescott signed to a deal that will keep their QB with the team for years to come. Prescott is young, durable and showed signs of being able to take the next step as a passer in 2019. McCarthy keeping Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator, as well as his terminology, can help Prescott continue his improvement after reaching career highs in all major passing categories in his fourth season.
Dallas has the money to keep Prescott a Cowboy for the foreseeable future with a lucrative long-term deal, but they are trying to keep the contract as team-friendly as they can. The rumors have consistently put Prescott’s numbers around $35 million annually, which should be in the Cowboys’ ballpark. Trying to low-ball Prescott is not the route to go and getting a deal done without using the franchise tag would be optimal for the team.
The Cowboys need to sign Prescott, and quickly, before things get contentious.
Re-sign Byron Jones
There is little doubt that Jones is the best CB on the Cowboys’ defense. The interceptions haven’t come for Jones, but he’s only been playing corner for two seasons and he’s played extremely well in those years.
The lack of interceptions isn’t a Jones thing, either. It was a widespread issue for the defense with former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and passing game coordinator Kris Richard at the helm. Perhaps the change to Mike Nolan as the new defensive guru will help Jones pick off more passes. The Cowboys have too many needs to address without adding cornerback to the list, which is what will happen if they allow Jones to leave.
Use the franchise tag on Amari Cooper
Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones and Cooper have both expressed the hope that Cooper will be a Cowboy for years to come. However, that decision should wait a year. Cooper was the leading WR for the team, despite playing through injuries all season, but he also disappeared in far too many games to be able to rely on him.
The trade for Cooper was a smart move and keeping the stud WR makes sense, but the Cowboys have other big money contracts to dole out this offseason. Keeping Cooper should be a priority, and if a sensible long-term deal can be worked out, the team should get it done, but franchising their veteran playmaker feels like the right route.
Re-sign Michael Bennett
The Cowboys made the move to acquire Bennett mid-season of 2019 and he paid dividends for the team. The flexibility in Bennett’s game allows the Cowboys to move him along the defensive line and rush the passer from multiple places which could open up lanes for DeMarcus Lawrence to thrive.
Getting Bennett back in the fold will likely be a cheaper option than re-signing Robert Quinn, even though the latter lead the team in sacks. Bennett also brings a winning pedigree and is a leader in the locker room.
Be proactive finding a stud DT in free agency
It’s been a long time since the Cowboys had a really good defensive tackle eating up space in the middle of the defense. Marinelli’s influence on the defensive line usually led to the middle-of-the-road, stopgap types of tackles, something Nolan should remedy.
Dallas’ defense has been eaten up in the running game the last few years and they need to find some beef inside. Chris Jones of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs should be a top priority, but likely will be franchised. However, if he’s not, the Cowboys would be wise to go after the dual threat defensive tackle.
Other top options include Jordan Phillips, Michael Brokers, Michael Pierce and Jarran Reed.
Lock up Special Teams dynamos
The Cowboys had one of the worst special teams units in the league last year – and the last few years, if we’re being honest – and the time has come to make major upgrades.
Adding John Fassel as the coordinator was a step in the right direction. Now the team must use some resources to add better pieces to improve all aspects of the maligned unit. Kickers, punters, coverage tacklers, blockers and returners should all be on the table for Dallas.
Do you think the Cowboys should spend the offseason getting their house in order with extensions or should they look toward free agency to improve? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.