As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.
Week 16 was appropriate for the Cowboys’ season. Just when the door opened for them to sneak into the playoffs, they played a terrible game against the Seattle Seahawks and lost. Somehow the Seahawks beat Dallas despite having more penalty yards than yards gained, something that hadn’t happened in the NFL since 1966. Nothing went as planned for the Cowboys this season, all the way through their elimination game.
What went right: There were times, usually when Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t suspended and Sean Lee wasn’t hurt, that the Cowboys looked like the powerful team we saw last season. A three-game winning streak which included double-digit wins at San Francisco, at Washington and against Kansas City showed the Cowboys at their peak. Also, Elliott played well when he wasn’t suspended, Jason Witten continued to be remarkably productive at age 35 and the defense was mostly better than expected. Demarcus Lawrence (14.5 sacks) and David Irving (seven sacks) had fine seasons on the defensive line.
What went wrong: The Dak Prescott hype was out of control all offseason (the peak came when the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” list had Prescott as the 14th best player in all of football) and he was never going to live up to that. Prescott was good at times and mediocre at others, like most second-year quarterbacks. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong with how his second season went, it was just disappointing compared to the massive hype surrounding him. There were also cracks in the once-impenetrable offensive line, after the Cowboys lost tackle Doug Free and guard Ronald Leary in the offseason. There’s also the question of Ezekiel Elliott’s maturity that will follow him around. (Charles Robinson put forth some of the issues and the five things the Cowboys need to fix in this piece.)
Will the coach be back?: Jerry Jones says Jason Garrett will return, and let’s assume he’s telling the truth. The only reason to fire Garrett would be to appease fans who have been infected with the college football ideal of firing the coach at the first sign of trouble. Garrett has guided 12- and 13-win seasons over the past four years, and constantly changing coaches just to make certain fans happy isn’t a path to success.
Do they have a quarterback?: I still believe in Dak Prescott. He might never reach the heights of his rookie season again, because few players ever do. And that’s OK. Prescott was never the 14th best player in all of the NFL, nor was the weird preseason MVP buzz ever realistic. But he can be a good, solid quarterback who could settle in as one of the 10 best in the NFL. We saw that promise from him last season. Some expected regression in his second season doesn’t change that he can be a fine quarterback.
Quick free agent fix: While Jason Witten has been a great player and is still productive, grabbing a young tight end who can impact the offense is a key. Trey Burton of the Eagles will get a nice deal, and the Cowboys should at least see if they have the cap room to make a run at him (that won’t be easy since Demarcus Lawrence will command a huge contract this offseason as a free agent). Also, receiver might be a serious issue if the Cowboys decide to move on from Dez Bryant, though that seems unlikely since they have little else at the position.
Quick draft fix: While receiver and tight end will be draft targets if the Cowboys strike out in free agency, inside linebacker might be a position of need too. Jaylon Smith played OK, but when Sean Lee was hurt the defense struggled. That has been a constant theme the past few years. Lee will be 32 years old next season and has a long injury history, so the Cowboys might want to take a look at getting his eventual replacement, especially with Anthony Hitchens set to become a free agent.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: Absolutely. The blue-chip talent is still in place. It’s a team that was the No. 1 seed in the NFC just a year ago. Ezekiel Elliott needs to stay out of trouble, Dak Prescott has to improve rather than regress again and the Cowboys need something at receiver whether it’s Dez Bryant or someone else. The Cowboys will enter 2018 with Super Bowl hopes again, and they won’t be unjustified.
PREVIOUS FOND FAREWELLS
– – – – – – –