More Sports:

June 24, 2024

10 reasons the Cowboys will be a dumpster fire this season

Jimmy Kempski's annual 'dumpster fire' series returns with talk of Jerry Jones, Mike McCarthy and everything related to the Dallas Cowboys.

Eagles NFL
062324JerryJones Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Jones kisses the Wildcard Round Participant Trophy during a parade in Dallas.

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 get to the Eagles as well at the end of the series.

1) Chokers gonna choke

The Cowboys had hilarious ends to their seasons both in 2021 and 2022. 

In 2021 against the 49ers, Mike McCarthy called an asinine play that required the Cowboys and the officiating crew to work together to spot and snap the ball with time ticking down.

In 2022, Ezekiel Elliott played center.

In 2023, we got no such end-of-game hijinks. Instead, the Packers simply tore them apart from the opening whistle to the final gun, as the vaunted Cowboys defense looked helpless against a Packers team that had the youngest roster in the NFL. The lowlight was probably when the Cowboys just didn't cover Luke Musgrave and Green Bay went up by four scores.

Anyway, it was the same old, same old for the Cowboys. They had some ups and downs during the regular season and entered the playoffs with some Super Bowl hype, and then they choked, as always.

Here's how many times each NFL team has made a Conference Championship Game appearance since the Cowboys were last there following the 1995 season:

Team Conference Championship Game appearances 
Patriots 14 
Packers, 49ers 
Eagles, Steelers 
Broncos, Ravens
Rams, Vikings, Panthers, Falcons, Colts 
Saints, Seahawks, Giants, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Jets, Titans 
Cardinals, Bears, Raiders, Bengals 
Chargers, Bills, Lions 
Cowboys, Commanders, Browns, Dolphins, Texans 0 

Would you mind updating the "Days Without a Conference Championship Appearance" counter, Jerry?


The Cowboys played in 16 Conference Championship games in a span of 10,606 days from their first appearance in one on January 1, 1967, to their most recent appearance on January 14, 1996. It will be another 10,606 days on the nose from that last Conference Championship appearance to the NFL's scheduled Conference Championship round at the end of the 2024 season on January 26, 2025.

2) Dak Prescott, Micah Parsons, and CeeDee Lamb to Jerry and Stephen Jones: "F*** you, pay me."

The Cowboys have three star players ripe for contract extensions in Prescott, Parsons, and Lamb. None have gotten new deals yet. 

Prescott is scheduled to count for a little over $55 million on the 2024 cap, and if he walks in free agency next March, he'll count for a little over $40 million on the Cowboys' 2025 cap in dead money. Prescott's representation negotiated a clause in his current contract that does not allow the Cowboys to franchise tag him, so that is not an option.

During a press conference in April, Jerry Jones said that he wanted to "see more cards played" before doing new deals with his star players, via ProFootballTalk

“We’d like to see more leaves fall,” Jones said when asked about waiting to do a new deal with Prescott. “We’d like to see more action. It’s called option quarterback. I’ve spent my life [playing] option quarterback. I want to see some more cards played.”

Well, some cards did indeed get played...

• The Lions' Jared Goff got a new deal worth $53 million (!) per season.

• The Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence got a new deal worth $55 million (!) per season.

Oops! Jerry Jones wanting to see some more cards:

Prescott is a better player than Goff or Lawrence, and there's a thinking that he could command more than $60 million per season on his next deal.

To be determined if that's in Dallas or somewhere else.

Meanwhile, Lamb is scheduled to play the 2024 season on his fifth-year option. His price tag may have gone up after Justin Jefferson signed a four-year, $140 million deal ($35 million/season). Both Lamb and Jefferson have been in the league for four years: A comparison of their career stats:

• Justin Jefferson: 392 catches, 5899 yards (15.0 YPC), 30 TDs.
• CeeDee Lamb: 395 catches, 5145 yards (13.0 YPC), 32 TDs.

Jefferson is the better player, But Lamb's representation has a pretty strong argument that Lamb's numbers aren't that much worse than Jefferson's. Lamb has more receptions and TDs. The only real difference is that Jefferson is averaging 2 more yards per catch. Lamb also led the NFL in 2023 with 135 catches and he finished second in yards to Tyreek Hill with 1749.

And finally, there's Parsons, who is scheduled to play on the fourth year of his rookie deal in 2024. The Cowboys exercised his fifth-year option for 2025, so there's less urgency to get something done immediately with Parsons as there is with Prescott or Lamb. However, while Parsons is kinda/sorta playing nice for now (though he did skip OTAs this year), he sure as hell isn't going to be happy playing on a fifth-year option in 2025. Nick Bosa is already making $34 million per season, and Parsons is a younger, better player.

On the one hand, the Cowboys have three star players in Prescott, Lamb, and Parsons, which is great 🥳🎉. On the other hand, they haven't done jack shit with those three guys and they're all soon each going to cost about $15-20 million more per season than they already do 💸.

3) Jerry Jones promised the team was "all in" and then they slept through free agency

Because the Cowboys have to get new deals done with Prescott, Lamb, and Parsons, they basically sat out free agency.

That didn't stop Jerry Jones from saying at the Senior Bowl in January that the Cowboys would be "all in" to win a Super Bowl in 2024. More accurately, he should have said, "We're gonna lose a lot of decent players and add almost nobody of consequence whatsoever."

Here's a snapshot of what the Cowboys did in free agency:

Players gained Players retained Players lost Still unsigned 
LB Eric KendricksCB Jourdan LewisLT Tyron SmithCB Stephon Gilmore 
RB Ezekiel Elliott (lol) RB Rico Dowdle C Tyler Biadasz S Jayron Kearse 
 CB C.J. Goodwin RB Tony Pollard  
 OL Chuma Edoga DE Dorance Armstrong  
 LS Trent Sieg LB Leighton Vander Esch  
  WR Michael Gallup  
  DT Johnathan Hankins  
  DE Dante Fowler  
  DT Neville Gallimore  
  CB Noah Igbinoghene  

The "players lost" column is a lot longer than the "players gained" column. #Analysis 👨‍🔬.

Tyron Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Tony Pollard, Stephon Gilmore, Leighton Vander Esch (when healthy), Jayron Kearse, and Michael Gallup were starters, while Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler — who combined for 26 sacks the last two seasons — were productive role players.

Jerry Jones should probably stop making card references.

4) The offensive line could be bad

After losing starters Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz in free agency, the Cowboys' offensive line will look something like this in 2024:

• LT Tyler Guyton
• LG: Tyler Smith
• C: Brock Hoffman or Cooper Beebe
• RG: Zack Martin
• RT: Terence Steele

Verrrry shaky. Martin (34 in November) is on the downside of his career, Steele stunk in 2023 after getting a big contract, Guyton is a rookie who started just 14 games in college, and their center will either be another rookie (Beebe), or a UDFA tomato can (Hoffman).

The only guy the Cowboys can really feel good about both in the short-term and long-term is Smith, who is playing arguably the least important position on the line.

5) Their offensive run game is going to suck

The Cowboys as a team finished with just 4.1 yards per carry in 2023, their worst average since 2012. That might not get better in 2024 since the offensive line is likely to be worse in the short-term, and their running backs are among the worst in the NFL.

After losing Tony Pollard in free agency, the Cowboys seemed poised to draft a running back, and in fact, Jerry Jones even revealed who he had his eyes on prior to Day 2 of the draft.

Why would he say that?  🤯

Anyway, Brooks got drafted 46th overall by the Panthers before the Cowboys could get him at pick 56, and they ended up not selecting a running back at all. Instead, after the draft was over, the Cowboys signed a washed Ezekiel Elliott (LOL!), who averaged 3.5 yards per carry with the Patriots in 2023.


I was curious to see how Cowboys fans reacted when the team released Zeke last year, so I went to the comment section of when that move happened. Here were some of the negative comments: 

• "I’m exhilarated I’ll never have to see him do his dumb feed me gesture after every run only to start tapping his helmet to come out for a breather on the next play." (dball64)

• "I see nothing in his game - speed, quickness, explosiveness, elusiveness, pass catching, tackle breaking - that he does better than what you could reasonably find on the waiver wire or with a day 3 draft pick." (Michael Strawn)

• "Fat RB whose numbers are largely empty calories." (Paulthewineguy)

• "Never saw a player peter out sooner. Dude had four great years, then just disappeared. The last three years have been Zeke is 'in the best shape of his life.' Then we hear in camp how awesome he is, then six games into the season he's done." (Ὀδυσσεύς)

• "Dreams do come true! Just 4 years too late. Good riddance. I'm sure the team that signs this fullback will be just as excited about the endless supply of 2 yard runs." (FeedPollardFan)

• "End of an error. Letting him hold you hostage while in Cabo, and resetting the market as the highest paid running back." (Michael_Monroe)

• "Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Mr. $15M/year fullback." (Voo Coo)

And now he's back! And even the most delusional Cowboys fans know he's bad.

The Cowboys' other backs? Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, and Royce Freeman. Yuck.

(On a side note, in addition to his new salary, Zeke still has a $6 million dead money charge on the Cowboys' 2024 cap from when the team released him last year, which is just funny to me.)

6) They still struggle stopping the run, too

The Cowboys did a decent enough job of stopping the run when they had leads, as most teams do. But when they played from behind, opposing offenses ran all over them. For example:

• Cardinals, Week 3: 30 rushes, 222 yards, 2 TDs.

• 49ers, Week 5: 41 rushes, 170 yards, 2 TDs. And that was mostly Niners backups.

• Bills, Week 15: 49 rushes, 266 yards, 3 TDs.

• Packers, Wildcard Round: 33 rushes, 133 yards, 3 TDs.

One of the biggest concerns for the Cowboys heading into 2024 is their interior defensive line. They only have two (!) defensive players likely to make the team who weigh more than 300 pounds. One of them is disappointing 2023 first-rounder Mazi Smith. A taste of his rookie season: 

Mazi Smith highlight reel:


The other 300-plus pounder is Justin Rogers, a rookie seventh-round pick. Otherwise their heaviest defensive player likely to make the team is Osa Odighizuwa, who is an extremely lean 280-pound defensive tackle. The Cowboys are going to be at a pure size disadvantage in the defensive trenches against every team they play.

7) Takeaway regression is coming... maybe... finally?

I've been doing this dumpster fire series for over a decade now, and as you might imagine I get fans of each of the teams I roast telling me why I'm wrong on some of my points. Those rebuttals are usually dumb, but there was one that wasn't a couple years ago. 

In 2022, I made the point that the Cowboys led the league in takeaways in 2021, and that it was very likely that takeaway regression was coming their way. I even had a well-researched chart showing all the recent teams that had 30 or more takeaways in a season, and how many they had the following season, shown here:

 Year, teamTakeaways Takeaways the next year +/- 
 2021 Cowboys34 
2019 Steelers 38 27 -11 
2019 Patriots 36 22 -14 
2019 Seahawks 32 22 -10 
2019 Vikings 31 22 -9 
2018 Bears 36 19 -17 
2018 Browns 31 20 -11 
2018 Rams 30 24 -6 
2017 Ravens 34 17 -17 
2017 Jaguars 33 17 -16 
2017 Lions 32 14 -18 
2017 Eagles 31 17 -14 
2016 Chiefs 33 26 -7 
2016 Raiders 30 14 -16 

On average, those teams had 12.8 fewer takeaways the next season. It seemed like a fairly bullet-proof assumption that the Cowboys wouldn't match their 2021 totals in 2022. A bunch of Cowboys fans credited then-defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's style of defense generating those takeaways, and claimed that there wouldn't likely be a substantial dropoff. Pfft, sure, OK, whatever. In 2022 though, the Cowboys once again led the league in takeaways, with 33. S**t. They got me on that one. 

In 2023, the Cowboys' takeaways dipped a bit, when they "only" had 26 of them. However, freaking DaRon Bland had an absurd five pick-sixes, so the Cowboys got a huge bang for the buck on those 26 takeaways. Here are all five of those pick-sixes, plus some of his other highlights:

Bland is awesome (his pick-six against the Panthers was ridiculous), but we can also acknowledge that most of those were gifts, right? Anyway, I think we can safely assume that he ain't getting five pick-sixes again.

Also, Dan Quinn is gone. He's now the Commanders' head coach, and Mike Zimmer will run the Cowboys' defense. Zimmer has been out of the league the last two seasons, and his defenses stunk his last two seasons when he was the head coach of the Vikings:

Vikings D 2020 rank2021 rank
 Points allowed29 24 
 Yards allowed (total)27 30 
 Yards allow (pass)25 28 
 Yards allowed (run)27 26 

Also, in his 22 years as a defensive coordinator or head coach, Zimmer's defenses finished in the bottom half of the league in takeaways in 13 seasons.

The year after they fired Zimmer, the Vikings finished first in the NFLPA's annual report cards, with Zimmer's firing being mentioned as a positive in the overview: 

Their facility was recently built and is considered state-of-the-art. This past year, they replaced former head coach Mike Zimmer with Kevin O’Connell, who through his first year is regarded as one of the most player-friendly head coaches. Additionally, the former head trainer, who several players had negative experiences with, moved on from the organization. The Minnesota Vikings are a shining example of what is possible when a concerted investment is made in both staffing and facilities.

You don't have to be warm and cuddly to be an effective coach in the NFL, but the transition from the player-friendly Quinn to the player-unfriendly Zimmer will be interesting.

The Cowboys lost a bunch of good role players on defense


Turnover regression is likely coming


Downgrade from Quinn to Zimmer 

The Cowboys' defense probably won't be as good in 2024 as it was in 2023.

8) Their yearly depth issues might be worse than usual

The Cowboys always have their share of star players, but they're never set up for success in January because their depth always sucks. After losing as many good role players as they did this offseason, as noted above, their depth is as shaky as it has been in years. Let's go position-by-position.

QB: If Dak Prescott goes down, the Cowboys are done. The 49ers thought so little of Trey Lance that they traded him to a team they had faced in the playoffs each of the last two seasons (at the time they made the trade).

RB: They don't even have a starter, much less ideal depth.

WR: If CeeDee Lamb gets hurt, Brandin Cooks is the WR1, and then who's the WR2? Jalen Tolbert? He has 280 career receiving yards after the Cowboys selected him in the third round of the 2023 draft. And it's not as if they're going to be able to run the ball. Basically if Lamb gets hurt, the offense is done.

TE: Fine here.

OL: Depth here seems fine for a change, even if the starters will likely be shaky short-term, as noted above.

DL: They're fine on the edges, but they just don't have bodies on the interior. There's no way they can go into the season with what they presently have at defensive tackle.

LB: 32-year-old Eric Kendricks should be adequate as a starter. Don't love Damone Clark. The backups are a couple of young guys — DeMarvion Overshown and Marist Liufau— who have never played an NFL snap.

CB: Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland are a great 1-2 starting duo. Thereafter, the depth is barren.

S: Markquese Bell played linebacker last season, and was good enough that he should probably just continue to play there, even if undersized. He's moving back to safety, and will probably be the primary backup there, which isn't ideal. 

9) There hasn't been a repeat NFC East champion since 2004

The last time a team repeated as NFC East division winners was when the Eagles did it in 2004. In each of the last 18 seasons, we've seen the previous year's division champion dethroned. 

 YearNFC East champion 

The NFC East teams all play each other twice, as you're aware. They also play the entirety of the very good AFC North and the garbage NFC South. The NFC East teams each have three games on their schedules that their divisional rivals don't. The Cowboys have a first-place schedule, and as such, they play first-place teams in the NFC North (Lions), NFC West (49ers), and AFC South (Texans). The NFC East teams drew the following floating opponents this year:

Finish NFC East team NFCN / NFCS / AFCW opponents 
1st Cowboys Lions, 49ers, Texans 
2nd Eagles Packers, Rams, Jaguars 
3rd Giants Vikings, Seahawks, Colts 
4th Commanders Bears, Cardinals, Titans 

The Cowboys have to play the two teams who met in the NFC Championship Game (the Lions and 49ers), and a team on the rise in the Texans. The 49ers own the Cowboys' souls, and the Lions beat the Cowboys in 2023 (but the officials gave the game to the Cowboys). The other three NFC East teams have easier trios of games, on paper.

10) Mike McCarthy is a lame duck, and the Joneses aren't "all in" at all.

Because the Cowboys' defense got their asses handed to them by the Packers in the playoffs from the opening kickoff to the final gun, Quinn got more heat in the aftermath than McCarthy. Also, because the game was never close, we didn't get to see some obvious in-game McCarthy mistake that helped lead to a loss, like we have in the past. 

But there was still plenty to blame on McCarthy. To begin, it's not as if the offense did anything in that playoff game either, at least until the game was already out of hand. The Cowboys' first four possessions went like so:

  1. Punt
  2. INT
  3. Punt
  4. Pick-six

But also, the team as a whole simply wasn't ready for that game. Shouldn't that ultimately fall on the head coach?

If the Cowboys had fired McCarthy, nobody would have been surprised in the slightest. Instead, barring any surprises, McCarthy will be coaching the 2024 season on the final year of his contract, which is something NFL coaches hate to do. The Joneses pretty clearly don't fully believe in McCarthy or they would have at least signed him a one-year extension just for the sake of giving him some job security.

The Cowboys ultimately retained McCarthy to be a lame duck coach during an offseason in which there were a number of big-name, successful coaches who were available. Why? Well, they like to be able to control their head coach, as opposed to previous head coaches like Jimmy Johnson or Bill Parcells. They were never going to bring in someone like Bill Belichick or Jim Harbaugh. Or maybe they just didn't want to pay McCarthy a year's salary for nothing?

It's worth noting that seven of the Cowboys' first 10 games are against teams that went to the playoffs in 2023. bolded below:


Week 1: At Browns
Week 2: Saints
Week 3: Ravens
Week 4: At Giants
Week 5: At Steelers
Week 6: Lions
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: At 49ers
Week 9: At Falcons
Week 10: Eagles
Week 11: Texans

If they stub their toe early in the season, the risk of McCarthy "losing the locker room," so to speak, is high. 

Also, at the time it was reported that the Cowboys would let McCarthy coach on the final year of his deal, the team had not yet hired a defensive coordinator as well as various other assistants. Those open positions were no doubt less appealing than other openings around the league, because there's no job security working for a team with a lame duck head coach. So, you know, there were logical benefits to just giving McCarthy an extra year, and no downside since coaches don't count toward the salary cap.

Cowboys fans have naturally been very displeased with their team's offseason. The following Twitter thread alleges that in recent years the Jones family more or less has prioritized other more lucrative business ventures over the Cowboys, and as such, they cap their cash spending on the team. There are some pretty compelling points here:

The idea that the Cowboys are essentially a hobby for the Joneses is just... 🤯. But there seems to be at least some truth in it.

Email Jimmy:

Follow Jimmy & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @JimmyKempski | thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Jimmy's RSS feed to your feed reader