The Dallas Cowboys‘ season is over following another disappointing playoff loss on Sunday night. While it might be tempting for Jerry Jones to blow up his coaching staff or his roster in advance of the 2023 campaign, the Cowboys aren’t set up for massive changes this offseason. And truth be told, Dallas isn’t all that far away from building a team whose postseason hopes don’t end in the Divisional Round.
Mike McCarthy Will Return as the Dallas Cowboys Head Coach
Mike McCarthy doesn’t appear to be in any danger of losing his job. Jones could always change his mind in the coming days or weeks, but after pledging that McCarthy was secure even before their Wild Card win over the Buccaneers, Jones reiterated his support for his head coach following the Cowboys’ loss to the 49ers.
“No. No. No. Not at all,” Jones told reporters Sunday night when asked if anything had changed regarding McCarthy’s status in Dallas.
McCarthy is 30-20 as the Cowboys’ head coach, and he’s 24-10 over the past two seasons. Dallas finished the season fifth in point differential and sixth in total DVOA. The Cowboys managed to post a 4-1 record with Cooper Rush as their starting quarterback.
Head coaches with that kind of track record typically don’t get fired. Of course, the rules don’t always apply in Dallas, and the Cowboys’ last two playoff losses ended in embarrassing fashion.
Down six points to the 49ers in last year’s Wild Card round, Dak Prescott scrambled up the middle with 13 seconds and no timeouts remaining. By the time the ball was re-spotted, the clock had run out, and the game was over.
This season, the Cowboys’ postseason run ended on a bizarre final play that featured Ezekiel Elliott at center. Dallas needed 76 yards on a single play to tie the game, so there was never any real hope of a comeback. But the optics weren’t great, and that’s without mentioning McCarthy’s repeated game-management struggles.
Jones will turn 81 years old next season, and the Cowboys haven’t advanced to an NFC Championship Game since 1995. There might be a temptation to overhaul everything, but Jones is better served to cross his fingers and hope he doesn’t lose either of his coordinators.
Brain Drain Coming for the Cowboys?
The Cowboys’ staff has been among the NFL’s most impressive over the last two seasons, but changes could be coming. Both offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are up for head coaching jobs this offseason.
Moore, whose offense scored the third-most points in the NFL and finished 10th in efficiency, is a candidate for the Panthers but hasn’t officially scheduled an interview yet. If Moore were to land the Carolina job, Dallas could replace him internally with quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, who predates McCarthy on the Cowboys’ staff. Nussmeier has been mentioned as a speculative candidate for the Patriots’ offensive coordinator gig.
Dallas could also look at external OC options if Moore departs, but a third of the league is searching for an offensive play-caller. A former head coach like Frank Reich or Nathaniel Hackett could make sense, or the Cowboys could target a quarterbacks coach such as the Eagles’ Brian Johnson, the Giants’ Shea Tierney, or the Bengals’ Dan Pitcher.
Replacing Quinn would be a taller task, but the Cowboys DC has already interviewed with the Cardinals, Broncos, and Colts. A finalist for several jobs last offseason, Quinn looks poised to claim a head coaching role this year, potentially depriving Dallas of the coordinator who led the NFL’s second-best defense by expected points added per play.
If Quinn leaves, secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. — who interviewed for the Ravens’ DC job last year — could be in line to take over. Senior defensive assistant George Edwards has been a coordinator for three NFL teams and would present another option. Former head coaches such as Vic Fangio or Mike Zimmer (Edwards’ former boss) could also be in consideration to succeed Quinn.
If the Cowboys’ triumvirate remains intact for 2023, they’ll probably be coaching a roster that also looks very similar to the 2022 version — because Dallas won’t have a ton of room to maneuver this offseason.
The Cowboys Are Light on Resources
Even if the Cowboys want to significantly augment their roster in the coming months, salary cap constraints will likely prevent them from doing so.
Dallas will enter the offseason roughly $225,000 over the salary cap. The situation is even direr when assessing effective cap space, which accounts for the Cowboys eventually signing their 2023 draft selections. By that measure, Dallas will be more than $9 million in the red.
The Cowboys could create more room by making a few cuts, and the most obvious is Elliott, who carries a $16.27 million cap charge in 2023. There’s no chance Zeke will come back at that figure.
Dallas could re-sign pending free agent Tony Pollard and turn over the backfield to the 25-year-old, but his status is clouded by the broken fibula he suffered on Sunday night. Thus, the Cowboys could convince Elliott to return at a lower salary.
Additionally, Dallas could create a good deal of cap space through simple contract restructures. By converting a portion of some players’ base salaries into signing bonuses, the Cowboys should be able to push more money into the future and open up some breathing room in the here and now.
Prescott ($31 million), DeMarcus Lawrence ($15 million), Tyron Smith ($13.6 million), Zack Martin ($13.5 million), and Michael Gallup ($11 million) all have hefty base salaries that appear ripe for restructuring. However, all those players except Gallup will be at least 30 years old by this summer, and reworking their contracts will make them more difficult to release in the future.
Given the Cowboys’ window, it probably makes sense for them to convert at least a few of those deals, free up cap space, and make at least a couple of meaningful additions.
Dallas’ first move should be to add another playmaking receiver. CeeDee Lamb proved he’s a true WR1 by finishing the season 10th in yards per route run, but he needs more help behind him.
Gallup and Noah Brown (a pending free agent) are fine depth pieces, but the Cowboys need a legitimate No. 2 receiver. This is a team that signed 34-year-old T.Y. Hilton off the street in December and made him a vital cog in their offense.
The 2023 free agent wide receiver market has been largely picked over, but a few intriguing options might suit the Cowboys. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers, Parris Campbell, DJ Chark, and Darius Slayton could all be on Dallas’ radar this offseason, while the club could also use the 26th overall pick on a new wideout.
Elsewhere on offense, the Cowboys seem likely to let franchise-tagged tight end Dalton Schultz walk in free agency and turn over their TE room to young options like Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. Dallas’ offensive line is also spoken for, although the Cowboys will have to decide where everyone fits as restricted free agent Terence Steele returns to the fold at right tackle after tearing his ACL in December.
Things are trickier on the defensive side of the ball. Stalwarts like Micah Parsons, Lawrence, and Trevon Diggs will be back, but Leighton Vander Esch, Donovan Wilson, Anthony Brown, and Dante Fowler Jr. are all free agents.
Quinn had made a habit of getting the most out of role players. If he leaves for a head coaching job, it’s fair to wonder whether the Cowboys will still be able to tease out that same level of production.
Dallas’ best course of action this offseason is to add another receiver, re-sign their crucial depth pieces, and hope at least one of their coordinators returns. The Cowboys weren’t that far away in 2022 — they might not have the ability to make drastic changes, but they don’t necessarily need to.