NFL
January 18, 2022

Why the Dallas Cowboys Need to Make Big Changes After Another NFL Playoff Disaster

The Dallas Cowboys were favored by as many as 4.5 points against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Wild Card round, but the public seemingly knew this was a mistake. After mishandling their final drive and losing in heartbreaking fashion 23-17, the Cowboys have some big decisions to make on the future of the franchise. 

There were speculative reports the Cowboys could make a head-coaching change from Mike McCarthy even before the game kicked off. That continued post-game, with pundits calling for the veteran's head on a platter. Failing to ax McCarthy could lead to losing both valued assistants — offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn — to head-coaching jobs elsewhere.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he expects McCarthy to be back after a 12-5 season that produced the league's top offense and seventh-best defense. Their great failure, though, should lead to a change. Losing two excellent coordinators will not help solve issues, including leading the NFL in penalties and again replicating that trend against the 49ers.

Turnover In Dallas

The prospect of losing Quinn and Moore to their peers would likely lead to a step back on their respective side of the ball. Quinn, in particular, had the defense playing above their talent level. The Cowboys' secondary is fine, but the only real long-term star is Trevon Diggs.

Some regression is likely anyways unless Diggs can replicate his incredible 11-interception season. The safety combination of Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee is solid but unspectacular. Corners Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis improved, but have been journeyman-level without Quinn.

There's a huge potential drop-off if that group cannot sustain their 2021 success without Quinn. The offense may have a smaller risk but that's also due to having immense talent all over the field. Of course, they need to play like it consistently in 2022.

Dak Prescott had a wonderful stat line in 2021, completing just under 69% of passes for 4,449 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. But when it mattered most throughout the season, his accuracy was off and his chemistry with his talented receivers was disjointed.

With both Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz ready to depart and offensive line cuts coming, creating a top-tier passing game will be more difficult, too.

Moore received more criticism from the Cowboys' fan base in 2021. The second-year coordinator didn't have the same game flow as he did in 2020. But the limitations that came with injury woes to Ezekiel Elliott, Gallup, and the offensive line must also be considered here.

Time To Move On From McCarthy?

There's no guarantee that firing McCarthy will lead to more wins in the playoffs, but the coach's background with the Green Bay Packers predicted the same postseason troubles. McCarthy often struggled to win as the favorite in the playoffs with Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers' self-inflicted problems closely resembled what cost the Cowboys this postseason. It's why the decision to hire McCarthy was baffling in the first place.

Replacing McCarthy may not even be in the cards at this point, and the NFL is watching closely. The best decision for the franchise is likely to move on from McCarthy, promote Quinn, and hope Moore stays on board for one more year. Even if Moore departed, at least the Cowboys would still have a respected veteran head coach who can attract a solid staff.

Moore is riskier but has a higher upside than McCarthy without both assistants. The team must figure out why they had so many pre-snap penalties this season, and what Moore would do about the defensive staff if given the reins. Theoretically, the offense needs less than perfect coaching due to the talent on that side of the ball, but it also makes sense to go all-in on a strength.

What's Next For America's Team?

The talent is the final piece of the Cowboys' puzzle. Basically, with zero cap space entering 2022, the team must either restructure most of their veteran deals or start cutting high-priced veterans. Star left tackle Tyron Smith is in the crosshairs due to his huge $17.5 million cap hit and injury history. Restructuring Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Zack Martin would allow the team to have a healthier cap situation in 2022 but would limit them in 2023.

The margin for error on player acquisitions is next to none because of their huge investments into the line and Elliott. That leaves the coaching staff as the major area for improvement. However, if the Cowboys stubbornly keep McCarthy and lose both assistants, it's just a matter of time until their hand is forced into sweeping changes once again.

The league will be watching and hoping the Cowboys allow both assistants to depart for promotions.

Photo: Getty Images