DALLAS — Another Super Bowl has passed and the Dallas Cowboys were home watching, again. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrated their second championship season, while the fans of the Cowboys were forced to grin and bear the pain of knowing that the Tampa Bay franchise has now won two titles since Dallas last appeared in a championship game.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys could learn from the Buccaneers and how they went about building their team. Putting together a championship roster doesn’t have to be complicated and the Cowboys could have a quick turnaround, just as the Buccaneers did in just one season.
After all, Tampa Bay was just 7-9 in 2019 and they were able to accomplish a remarkable about-face to win the Super Bowl in head coach Bruce Arians’ second season. With that in mind, here’s how the Bucs pulled it off and how the Cowboys can follow a similar path:
A championship season always begins with the quarterback and that was a huge piece of the puzzle for Tampa Bay. Signing Tom Brady was the best move that the team made and he was a huge factor in them winning the Super Bowl as the all-time great signal caller pulled in his fifth Super Bowl MVP trophy.
The Cowboys have a very good quarterback themselves just waiting to get his new contract from the organization. This is like beating a dead horse, but Jerry and Stephen Jones need to make sure they sign Dak Prescott to a long-term deal and let him lead their franchise for the foreseeable future. Quarterback is the most important piece to any team and the Cowboys continue to play with fire by not prioritizing one of the better QBs in the game.
If the Cowboys are serious about winning the Super Bowl, they should get a deal done with Prescott without using the franchise tag so they can operate for the rest of the offseason knowing how much they can spend in free agency. But mostly, they just need to re-sign Prescott. Securing a top-tier QB is the main key to competing for a Super Bowl.
The problem on the Prescott front is, there appears to still be an issue in contract talks as the two sides reportedly aren’t close right now.
Dallas also needs to invest in their defense up the middle. The Buccaneers finished first in the NFL against the run and dominated in the playoffs on defense. Defensive tackle Vita Vea routinely pushed the pocket on opposing quarterbacks, while linebackers LaVonte David and Devin White roamed free to cover the field with their athleticism.
The Cowboys have neglected having a difference-making defensive tackle for far too long and that needs to change if the team is to take the next step.
The Cowboys have Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, both of whom are capable of playing at a high level – see 2018 – but they haven’t been able to play to their capabilities because the middle of the defensive line is getting gashed weekly in the last few years. Staying healthy would also help, but so would finding more athleticism at linebacker.
In the secondary, the Buccaneers proved how pivotal it is to have good safety play. Another hit on the broken record with the Cowboys is how they continue to ignore how important good safeties are to the strength of the defense. Tampa Bay drafted Antoine Winfield Jr. in last year’s draft and it was a valuable selection. Investing in the safety position is something Dallas desperately needs to learn and the Bucs have provided another case study.
Spending money in free agency on good players – not just stop gap options – is another reason that the Buccaneers were holding the Vince Lombardi trophy at season’s end. In addition to the franchise-altering move to bring in Brady, the Bucs signed defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett, wide receiver Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh over the last few years. The moves proved to be smart shopping as each of the free agent signees showed up big in the 31-9 beatdown of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, haven’t been willing to spend money on difference makers in free agency and the results speak for themselves.
Using salary cap money on expensive free agents doesn’t need to be used all the time as an organizational philosophy, but there’s proof that spending it wisely on the right players works. The Cowboys didn’t have success in free agency last offseason, but that can’t make them gun shy in the 2021 open market.
Dallas flipping the script and returning to Super Bowl glory might feel like a stretch, but the team isn’t that far away from pulling off a similar feat as the one Tampa Bay accomplished on Sunday.
Teams turn things around quickly in the NFL and if the organization can get Prescott signed and make a few wise moves to strengthen the defense this offseason, there’s reason to believe that they can be in a position to end their fans' sorrows of the past quarter decade.
Do you think the Cowboys have what it takes to replicate the Tampa Bay blueprint? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.