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The 2020 season featured a laundry list of low moments for the Cowboys and their fans. There was the drubbing at the hands of the Browns. Another on primetime against Arizona. A white-flag effort against Washington on the team’s unofficial holiday. The squandering of an improbable last-gasp chance to stay alive in the postseason chase, mismanaging the game versus the coach Dallas fired for mismanaging games. The offensive linemen ambivalently watching the backup quarterback get knocked into kingdom come. And of course, the heartbreak of seeing the starting quarterback/warrior try to put his own leg back together right on the turf so he could keep leading the team on a scoring drive.
Finishing 6-10 and with the tenth overall pick in the upcoming draft, the Cowboys were bad this past season. Unquestionably. But do they get painted with same brush moving forward? The team was a near-unanimous preseason favorite to contend for a title; did everyone just get that massively wrong? Or was 2020’s dumpster fire more a byproduct of bad luck and bad breaks?
Two national outlets believe the Cowboys aren’t far away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Like, just one to two years away.
But there’s one major condition.
ESPN turned to a group of NFL analysts to determine the Super Bowl timeline for each team in the league. The goal was to predict- “based on personnel, trajectory, rebuild timelines and other related factors”- when each team would actually be ready to be considered a legitimate threat to win it all, not just one of the middling squads who could squeak into the postseason mix.
The analysts put the Cowboys in a group of teams- along with the Dolphins, Chargers, and Vikings- that are “getting closer” at two years away.
Their recommended strategy for actually getting there boils down to Jerry and Stephen Jones realizing that, this offseason, they literally have one job.
“Get quarterback Dak Prescott signed to a long-term contract. If they don’t, then the Cowboys’ track to a Super Bowl is likely longer than just two years because the chances of Prescott signing a long-term deal in 2022 would be remote. With Prescott under contract at least through 2024 or longer, the Cowboys can plot their path to find help for the rest of the roster. But that will be a bit more difficult because of the cap crunch a Prescott contract would cause.”
The Worldwide Leader’s Todd Archer weighs in with more, adding that keeping players on the field and off the trainer’s table is key.
“The Cowboys believe if they can get their offensive line settled- Tyron Smith missed 14 games, La’el Collins missed 16 games and Zack Martin missed six- they can be a contender in the NFC. The Cowboys’ success will be driven by their offense as they look to build their defense with new coordinator Dan Quinn through the draft and smart free-agent signings. But hoping for health in a league dominated by injuries does not seem like the best strategy.”
The thought of Prescott and his Cowboys teammates realistically raising their sixth Lombardi Trophy in February 2023 would be a welcome light at the end of the tunnel for many fans, who have already waited through a quarter-century drought since the team’s last championship.
But maybe they won’t have to wait even that long.
In Bleacher Report’s look at teams ready to contend for a ring, they call Dallas one of six “sleeper” teams- along with Miami, Washington, Cleveland, San Francisco, and the Rams- who’ll be on the cusp of Super Bowl LVI twelve months from now.
The first stop on the road to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, though, is, once again, a visit to the ATM, to make a withdrawal for No. 4.
“Provided the front office doesn’t make a blunder of epic proportions and let Dak Prescott get away,” and “[p]resuming Prescott is right back to being a top-10 passer, all the Cowboys have to do is improve the defense and have better injury luck up front. He already has elite options in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup in the passing game.
“This offseason, the front office will have a top-15 cap number to work with and the 10th pick to beef up the defense. That- plus the return of Prescott and the lessening of growing pains for the talent under a new coaching staff in year two- should equate to the Cowboys surging in a division where two teams still look rudderless while rebuilding, and the serious threat (Washington) hasn’t figured out its quarterback situation.”
This postseason isn’t even over yet. But it’s already “there’s-always-next-season” season in Cowboys Nation. And there’s an all-important bit of business that gets the ball rolling.