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June 21, 2021

10 reasons the Cowboys will be a dumpster fire this season

Eagles NFL
062021JerryJones Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Jones winces during a press conference, as he successfully thwarts a demon from escaping his body.

This week, all week long, we're taking a negative look at each of the teams in the NFC East, in detail. Batting leadoff, as always, will be the Dallas Cowboys.

To note, we will not be talking about the positives of any of the Eagles' NFC East rivals, because, well, that's no fun. This will be 100 percent vitriolic. And yes, we'll torch the Eagles as well at the end of the series.

1) It is now over a quarter century since the Cowboys' last Super Bowl

The Cowboys' last Super Bowl was played on January 28, 1996, which means that we are officially now over 25 years since "America's Team" was a championship team. Some recent Cowboys folks even got together recently to celebrate their quarter century of irrelevance.

Actually, it's not just that they haven't won or even been back to the Super Bowl in 25 years. They haven't been back to the NFC Championship Game in the last quarter century either. Only two teams — the Washington Football Team and the Detroit Lions — can also make that claim. Each of the 13 other teams in the NFC have all made it to the NFC Championship Game at least twice during that span:

Team NFCCG appearances 
Packers 
Eagles 
49ers 
Falcons 
Panthers 
Vikings 
Rams 
Buccaneers 
Giants 
Seahawks 
Saints 
Bears 
Cardinals 


And yet, year after year, without fail, the Cowboys are hyped up as some kind of Super Bowl contender, for little other reason than that they're a high-profile team that has a lot of older fans who jumped on the bandwagon when they were good, back in the 70's, 80's, or 90's. Which again, (checks math), was a long time ago.

As David Akers said during the 2018 NFL Draft, "Hey Dallas, the last time you were in the Super Bowl, these draft picks weren't born."

And sure enough, last week, Kyler Murray (born 1997, in Allen, Texas, no less), the first pick of the 2019 draft, said that he was never a Cowboys fan because, "They were always ass." Ass indeed, Kyler. Ass indeed.

062021cowboysfart

So what does this have to do with whether or not the Dallas Cowboys will be good during the 2021 season? Well, they are tried and true losers over a span of 25 years now, so why should we believe they'll be anything else, until, you know, they're not?

2) Dak Prescott is back, but the Cowboys still stunk last year before he got hurt (oh, and now he's super expensive)

The Cowboys are obviously a far better team with Prescott than they are without him, and so his return from a gruesome leg injury that caused him to miss 11 games last year will obviously help, a lot. But they were still only 1-3 in games that he started and finished in 2020.

Before the start of the new league year this offseason, after years of screwing around, the Cowboys and Prescott finally agreed to a long-term deal. The simple explanation is that it's a four-year contract worth $160 million. $126 million is guaranteed, and Prescott got a $66 million signing bonus. He will reportedly receive $75 million the first year of the deal.

Because Prescott held all the leverage in negotiations, there was reason to believe that he might get more than the $40 million per year he received, so in that sense, his deal was viewed as something of a minor win for the Cowboys to at least keep it at that number. And to some degree, it was.

However, the benefits of the deal to Prescott — and the disadvantages to the Cowboys — are in the details, and they are significant. It's only a four-year deal, which means that as the salary cap increases and quarterbacks push the market even higher over the next few years, the Cowboys and Prescott will be right back at the negotiation table three years from now, when Prescott can score yet another top-of-the-market quarterback contract, since this deal reportedly will not allow the Cowboys to franchise tag him again. And that's only if he's still a good player after his injury. If he's bad in 2021 and beyond, this contract will be a disaster of Carson Wentz proportions.

Looking back, Prescott was a good quarterback from Day 1 in the NFL, earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016. The Cowboys had a major advantage by employing an extremely cheap player on a four-year rookie contract at the most expensive position, by far, in the sport. They won one playoff game during that span. That major advantage is now a significant disadvantage, as the Cowboys will have to find a way to build a roster around Prescott's cap-devouring contract.

Oh, and we should note that if Prescott goes down again, the Cowboys' aren't winning many games with Cooper Rush, Garrett Gilbert, or Ben DiNucci.

3) Zeke is worn out and he kinda sucks now

Ezekiel Elliott has only been in the league for five years, he's still only 25 years old, and partly because of over-usage early in his career, he is already very clearly in decline. Fun fact: There is only one running back (Mark Ingram) currently on an NFL roster with more career touches than him. 🤯

On the "decline" point, in 2020, Elliott had career lows in the following statistical categories: 

  1. Rushing yards per game (65.3)
  2. Yards per carry (4.0)
  3. Yards per reception (6.5)
  4. Yards per target (4.8)
  5. Rushing TDs (6)
  6. Total TDs (8)
  7. Rushing first downs per game (4.1)
  8. Rushes of 20+ yards (3)
  9. Rushes of 40+ yards (0)

He had career highs in the following statistical categories:

  1. Fumbles (6)

Here are five of those fumbles that Zeke lost last season for your viewing enjoyment:

It's funny to me that one of his three runs of 20+ yards ended with a fumble. I suppose an argument could be made that Elliott was hurt by a weakened offensive line. Meh. That wouldn't explain why he's been outproduced (relative to their usage) each of the past two seasons by Cowboys backup RB Tony Pollard.

 Anyway, let's go ahead and update Zeke's Zelda-like life meter:

ZekeZelda2021

4) The offensive line is no longer the strength it once was

While the Cowboys' offensive line has been one of the most overrated things in sports over the last decade or so (some called them the best offensive line ever, lol), there's no question that they were indeed very good, and one of the strengths of the team. Now? Not as much. A look at each spot:

LT Tyron Smith: Smith was one of the best left tackles in the game, having made seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 2013 to 2019. He's still only 30 years old (he'll turn 31 in December), but it's a very old 30, since he entered the league when he was 20 years old. This will be Smith's 11th season (he has 138 career starts), and the injury count over the last five years is long (with some help from SportsInjuryPredictor.com):

  1. September 2016: Back vertebral disc bulge, missed two games.
  2. December, 2016: MCL sprain, missed one game.
  3. November, 2017: Inguinal groin strain, Grade 2, missed two games.
  4. December, 2017: Knee patella sprain, went on IR, missed final game of the season.
  5. November 2018: Cervical neck injury, missed two games.
  6. September, 2019: High ankle sprain, missed two games.
  7. December, 2019: Back injury, missed final game of the season.
  8. September 2020: Cervical neck injury, missed two games.
  9. October, 2020: Cervical neck fracture, went on IR, had neck surgery, missed the final 12 games.

Tally it all up, and Smith has missed 26 games the last five years (14 games in 2020, and three games in each of the previous four seasons). Add in the fact that many of those injuries above involve his back and his neck, and that's not great.

Smith is in "2017 Jason Peters" territory, in that he'll still probably be good when he actually plays, but he's not what he used to be and everyone knows before the season even begins that he's going to miss some time.

LG Connor Williams: It took him a while, but Williams has become a quality starting LG.

C Tyler Biadasz: The downgrade from Travis Frederick to a combination of Biadasz and Joe Looney at center last season was substantial.

RG Zack Martin: Martin is actually a month older than Smith (he'll turn 31 in November), though he hasn't been in the league nearly as long, and "only" has 109 career starts. Martin missed six games in 2020, and went on IR near the end of the season with a calf injury. He's still obviously one of the best guards in the NFL, but his decline is on the horizon.

RT La'el Collins: Collins missed the entire 2020 season, and he had surgery on his hip in October. In February of this year, his agent tweeted that Collins isn't retiring, despite "rumors."

Lol, OK then. Most Cowboys fans weren't even aware that these rumors even existed, so that's maybe interesting?

5) The front office is back to adding character concern players

With three of their first seven picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected players — Micah Parsons, Kelvin Joseph, and Josh Ball — with off-the-field issues. 

Parsons, the 12th overall pick, is a very talented prospect, but one who also comes with vague, but seemingly legitimate character concerns

In the second round, they took Joseph, who originally enrolled at LSU, but was suspended for their bowl game in 2018, before transferring to Kentucky and missing the 2019 season as a result. 

In 2020, he was having a good season (four INTs in nine games), when he told head coach Mark Stoops that he wanted to sit out a game. Stoops suggested he just opt out for the season, via aseaofblue.com.

“He came in and visited with me after my press conference today,” Stoops said. “Kelvin, he’s a good young man and I appreciate what he did for us. He just didn’t, I don’t know how to phrase it. He didn’t really want to opt out but he didn’t want to play this week. I can’t just have him out there standing around saying, ‘I’m not playing in this game.’ That’s not how we’re going to do this at Kentucky.”

Lol. 

The Cowboys have a long history of taking big risks with their second-round picks on talented players with serious medical and/or character concerns. Prior examples include guys like Trysten Hill, Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory, etc. It usually doesn't work out.

In the fourth round, they took Ball, a talented, guard-tackle versatile offensive lineman who might have gone earlier in the draft, if not for seriously alarming accusations of violence by his ex-girlfriend that led to his suspension from Florida State, and eventual transfer to Marshall (with a stop at a JUCO school in between).

When asked about his past after the draft, Ball didn't seem to want to take accountability for his past.

The Cowboys have made it clear through their actions (see: Greg Hardy, Ezekiel Elliott, Aldon Smith, and now this guy) that they just don't GAF about strong, credible accusations of domestic violence.

6) Their run defense was embarrassing in 2020

We haven't even mentioned the Cowboys' atrocious defense yet! Here's where the Cowboys' run defense finished statistically in 2020:

Cowboys run D Stat Rank 
 Total rushing yards allowed2541 31st 
 Yards per carry allowed5.0 30th 
Rushing TDs allowed 20 T-25th 
Rushes of 20+ yards allowed 18 30th 
Rushing first downs allowed 142 31st 
Percentage of rushes resulting in 1st down 27.8% 25th 


Prediction: Dan Quinn and the Cowboys' defensive staff will try to overcorrect the Cowboys' run grossness in 2020, and the pass defense will suffer. Book it.

7) Their pass rush is (I'll be nice) underachieving

Unhappy about getting the franchise tag for the second straight year during the 2019 offseason, DeMarcus Lawrence used his injured shoulder, which required surgery, as leverage. What does that mean? Well, he refused to have shoulder surgery, thus delaying his return to the field, until he and the team agreed to a long-term deal.

Jerry Jones caved, and Lawrence was rewarded with a five-year contract worth $105 million, making him at the time the second-highest paid edge rusher in the NFL (on an "average per year" basis), behind only Khalil Mack. His cap numbers will be as follows the next three seasons:

• 2021: $25,000,000

• 2022: $27,000,000

• 2023: $29,000,000

😬

In the two seasons since he signed his deal, Lawrence has 11.5 sacks. There are 50 other players with at least 11.5 sacks over that span. Should we list them? What the hell, let's list them:

  1. T.J. Watt: 29.5
  2. Shaquil Barrett: 27.5
  3. Aaron Donald: 26
  4. Za'Darius Smith: 26
  5. Cameron Jordan: 23
  6. Myles Garrett: 22
  7. Chandler Jones: 20
  8. Bud Dupree: 19.5
  9. Joey Bosa: 19
  10. Justin Houston: 19
  11. Trey Hendrickson:  18
  12. Jason Pierre-Paul: 18
  13. Khalil Mack: 17.5
  14. DeForest Buckner: 17
  15. Maxx Crosby: 17
  16. Brian Burns: 16.5
  17. Brandon Graham: 16.5
  18. Chris Jones: 16.5
  19. Jamal Adams: 16
  20. Yannick Ngakoue: 16
  21. Preston Smith: 16
  22. Montez Sweat: 16
  23. Matt Judon: 15.5
  24. Carlos Dunlap: 15
  25. Mario Addison: 14.5
  26. Dante Fowler: 14.5
  27. Markus Golden: 14.5
  28. Danielle Hunter: 14.5
  29. Harold Landry: 14.5
  30. Emmanuel Ogbah: 14.5
  31. Stephon Tuitt: 14.5
  32. Frank Clark: 14
  33. Everson Griffen: 14
  34. Arik Armstead: 13.5
  35. Leonard Floyd: 13.5
  36. Robert Quinn: 13.5
  37. Haason Reddick: 13.5
  38. Josh Allen: 13
  39. Cameron Heyward: 13
  40. Benson Mayowa: 13
  41. Kyle Van Noy: 12.5
  42. Olivier Vernon: 12.5
  43. Derek Barnett: 12
  44. Leonard Williams: 12
  45. Grady Jarrett: 11.5
  46. Whitney Mercilus: 11.5
  47. Romeo Okwara: 11.5
  48. Jordan Phillips: 11.5
  49. Dawuane Smoot: 11.5
  50. Devin White: 11.5

If you're getting paid Khalil Mack-type money, you can't put up Dawuane Smoot numbers. 

And yet, Lawrence is the best player along the Cowboys' defensive line, and by a wide margin. I suppose they also have Randy Gregory, assuming he doesn't get suspended for a 37th time between now and the start of the 2021 season.

At the starting defensive tackle spots, and the overall depth along the D-Line, it's not pretty.

8) The secondary has holes, as always

Trevon Diggs was up and down as a rookie, but he feels like a decent enough bet to be a long-term starter in the NFL. Otherwise, who is the CB2? The top two candidates look like Anthony Brown, a perfectly fine depth player, but not an ideal starter by any stretch, or the aforementioned Joseph, whose 2020 college season ended when he wanted to take a game off late in the season for no good reason. Oh, and slot corner Jourdan Lewis had a down season in 2020.

At safety, if you look for them, you'll find articles suggesting that this is finally the year the safety position will be a strength for the Cowboys, like every year. And then it's not. This year the two starters will likely be Donovan Wilson and Damontae Kazee. Wilson had a promising 2020 season, and while I like Kazee's game, he is coming off an Achilles tear.

9) Is going from Mike Nolan to Dan Quinn even an upgrade at defensive coordinator?

Yeah, OK, it is, but that's about as low a bar as possible. Quinn had success in Seattle a long time ago, but his defenses in Atlanta pretty much stunk in the six years he was their head coach. 

 Falcons DYards allowed Points allowed Takeaways DVOA 
 201516 14 16 22 
 201625 27 27 27 
 201720 22 
 201828 25 19 31 
 201920 23 19 17 
 202029 19 18 14 


So, alright, because of Quinn's success in Seattle, it's not such a crazy hire. But what is crazy is reaching in the draft for a bunch of guys who specifically fit Quinn's scheme (and would be poor fits elsewhere), as if he's some sort of definitive long-term answer. 

10) The hiring of Mike McCarthy last year was dumb

Jerry Jones hired McCarthy because he believed that the Cowboys were ready to compete for a Super Bowl last season, and McCarthy would at least bring plenty of head coaching experience to the table. As usual, Jones overrated his own team, and while there were excuses (COVID, Prescott's injury, OL injuries), they still finished 6-10, and lost a fate-sealing Week 17 game to a crap Giants team in which they had a 1st and Goal from the 7, down 4, with under 2 minutes to play.

McCarthy's first season with Dallas didn't reveal obvious incompetence, but it wasn't exactly an impressive showing either. Recently, multiple oddmakers made McCarthy the favorite to be the first NFL head coach to be fired this year.

Personally, I believe there are numerous head coaches league-wide more deserving of losing their jobs, but at the same time, it feels like whenever the McCarthy era has come and gone, it will be remembered as something of a period of "football purgatory," when the team was neither egregiously bad nor great. 

So basically a continuation of what the Cowboys have been for the last 25 years. 

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