Dallas Cowboys Are Facing NFL’s Biggest Make-or-Break Season in 2022 | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors
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The Dallas Cowboys are heading into the 2022 NFL season as the slight favorite to win the NFC East for the second straight year, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. If they fall short of that and miss the playoffs entirely, seismic changes could be forthcoming next offseason.
The Cowboys went 12-5 last year, but they lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card Round. They proceeded to lose several major contributors in free agency this offseason, and they traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round pick and a sixth-round pick swap.
The Cowboys’ best chance to win a Super Bowl with this core now may already be over. They’re slated to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans this season, although they host three of their first four games, including the ones against Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
But no other team has the mixture of drama and stakes as the 2022 Cowboys do.
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Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy nearly lost both offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to other head coaching jobs this offseason. Dallas could cut ties with McCarthy and promote one of its prized coordinators in 2023 if team owner Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones feel as though he’s holding the team back from its potential.
McCarthy and Moore faced heat after the Cowboys lost to the Niners in the Wild Card Round. Dallas held San Francisco to only seven points in the second half, but the Cowboys’ high-powered offense came to a screeching halt for most of the game. They scored 10 of their 17 points in the fourth quarter and couldn’t complete the comeback attempt.
The efficiency and balance that helped the Cowboys offense soar in the regular season was missing against the Niners. Prescott completed only 23 of his 43 pass attempts. Ezekiel Elliott mustered only 31 yards on 12 carries. CeeDee Lamb had one catch for 21 yards.
It’s hard to win when your offensive stars play nowhere near their usual levels. While the players deserve blame for that, the coaching staff does as well. McCarthy and Moore can’t afford for their offense to sputter in the playoffs again and expect to be back in 2023.
If the Cowboys do go on a deeper playoff run, McCarthy’s coordinators bolt might anyway. That would be a welcomed trade-off for reaching the NFC Championship Game, but it would be tougher to swallow if the Cowboys fall flat. Dallas is already fortunate Quinn returned after receiving requests to interview for every open head coaching job except the Las Vegas Raiders this past spring.
Moore has shown promise throughout his first two seasons as offensive coordinator. He received several head coaching interviews as well before returning to the Cowboys. If he guides them to another top-five finish this season—Dallas led the NFL in both points and yards last year—that might push him over the edge in the next coaching cycle.
Coaching turnover isn’t the only thing hanging on the outcome of the Cowboys’ 2022 season. They also have some difficult salary-cap decisions to make about their veteran roster in the near future.
Elliott finished with 1,002 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 237 carries last season, but Tony Pollard vastly outperformed him in yards per carry (5.5 versus 4.2). If Elliott can’t recapture the form that earned him three Pro Bowl nods between 2016 and 2019, he might be heading into his final season in Dallas.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old has a $16.7 million cap hit in 2023, but the Cowboys could save nearly $5 million by cutting or trading him prior to July 1 and could save almost $11 million in cap space by designating him a post-June 1 cut. Pollard is also heading into the final year of his contract, so the Cowboys’ backfield could look entirely different by this time next year.
Franchise left tackle Tyron Smith could likewise be playing on a new team in 2023. He earned his eighth Pro Bowl nod last year, but he has missed at least three games in each of the past six seasons.
The Cowboys spent their first-round pick this spring on fellow offensive lineman Tyler Smith, whom Stephen Jones believes could be Smith’s eventual successor. Tyron Smith has a $17.6 million cap hit in 2023, but the Cowboys could save $9.6 million by trading or cutting him before June 1 and $13.6 million by designating him a post-June 1.
Dallas already started trimming wherever it could this past offseason. Trading Cooper and allowing Cedrick Wilson Jr., Connor Williams and Damontae Kazee to walk in free agency saved money but created more holes. The Cowboys lost Randy Gregory due to a dispute over contract language and then asked DeMarcus Lawrence to take a pay cut.
Even if the Cowboys do release Elliott and Smith next offseason, they might not be able to splurge in free agency. They’ll need money to extend Lamb and cornerback Trevon Diggs.
The Cowboys’ 2022 Outlook
Despite their personnel losses over the offseason, the Cowboys still have a strong team overall. Their offensive upside is immense even without Cooper and Wilson. They still have one of the better offensive lines in the league and a quality receiving corps with Lamb, Michael Gallup, tight end Dalton Schultz and rookie Jalen Tolbert.
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The NFL’s top-ranked offense from 2021 should be fine as long as Gallup recovers without complications from his torn ACL and Tyler Smith can play at a decent level early on. Dak Prescott will benefit from having a full offseason to continue his own growth, and he has enough weapons to avoid prolonged slumps.
The Cowboys’ defense has more question marks.
Dante Fowler Jr. and rookie second-round pick Sam Williams are better depth options than surefire stars. Fowler has been inconsistent throughout his career, producing no more than 4.5 sacks in four seasons and a combined 19.5 in 2017 and 2019.
The Cowboys’ secondary will be a swing factor as well. Dallas appears to be starting Malik Hooker at free safety next to Jayron Kearse instead of a third safety after Kazee departed in free agency. Hooker is incredibly talented and rangy but has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.
At cornerback, Dallas has a star in Diggs, quality veterans in Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, and a slew of young talent that needs to prove themselves if called upon. Diggs is coming off a breakout 11-interception season, but Quinn may want him to take chances than he did last year to limit coverage busts.
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Toeing the line between being a playmaker and a reliable coverage corner is difficult, but it’s one that the NFL’s finest defensive backs eventually reach. Can Dallas still have a top-seven scoring defense if Diggs fails to lead the league in interceptions again?
The Cowboys have a number of stars, including Prescott, Lamb, Elliott, Lawrence and Micah Parsons. Those high-level starters separate them from the middling contenders in the NFC.
But the swing players must show up in 2022 to keep Dallas from another early playoff exit.
Gallup must be the playmaker he showed before he tore his ACL. Tyron Smith needs to stay healthy. Diggs and Fowler need to be consistent difference-makers for the defense to overcome the powerful offenses of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be right on the Cowboys’ heels to win the NFC East. The Eagles have a more balanced roster, but they lack a definite star at quarterback.
Dallas’ margin for error has shrunk, and this franchise has not responded well to pressure for the last decade. If the Cowboys fall short again in 2022, it could spell the end of McCarthy, Elliott and Tyron Smith’s time in Big D, among others.