The Cowboys weren’t getting a lot of praise this past spring and summer for how they approached the 2022 offseason. Despite the negative press, though, Dallas is currently one of the NFL’s winningest teams and a legitimate contender. Given the results, how much of that criticism was really warranted?
There’s no denying that the Cowboys were relatively passive in free agency. Their biggest moves were using the franchise tag on TE Dalton Schultz and then re-signing players like LB Leighton Vander Esch and DE Dorance Armstrong. But balanced with the losses of OT La’el Collins, DE Randy Gregory, G Connor Williams, and WR Cedrick Wilson, it didn’t feel like Dallas improved the roster from 2021.
What was especially puzzling was the choice to trade away WR Amari Cooper for a pittance in draft capital, clearing $16 million in salary cap space that went unused. In mid-June, the Cowboys still had $20 million in cap space that seemed wasted after the primary portions of free agency.
Other slams on the team’s offseason approach included the lack of investment at backup quarterback and kicker, sticking with Cooper Rush and bringing back a former bust in Brett Maher. Even the 2022 draft class was scrutinized, with OL Tyler Smith and DE Sam Williams generally being declared reaches and players who might not help the team much as rookies.
Where we’re at now
A few months later, the 5-2 Cowboys are looking a lot smarter than they were given credit for. Most of the players they lost are not thriving with their new teams, while many players that Dallas kept or added are getting results. Where did the analysis fail?
One of the biggest issues seems to always be the fear of the unknown. We saw Cooper Rush handle business last year in Minnesota, but was that just a fluke? Could he really be trusted in a prolonged run as the starting quarterback?
The answer came very quickly as Dak Prescott was injured in Week 1 and Rush had to play for the next five games. Dallas went an astounding 4-1 during that time. While most of the credit belongs to the defense, Cooper did his job by avoiding costly mistakes and even executing in some clutch moments to extend drives and score critical points. Clearly, the Cowboys knew what they had in QB2 better than most.
Even the kicker is good
Or what about the decision to bring back Brett Maher? Just a few years ago, Maher’s inaccuracy cost him his job in Dallas but also sent him looking for improvement. He showed that in a brief stint with New Orleans last year, which helped get him back to the Cowboys this offseason. While most assumed that Maher would be the same old schlub, he has been one of the NFL’s best kickers so far in 2022.
Whether it’s Terence Steele outperforming La’el Collins, Dorance Armstrong matching anything we ever got from Randy Gregory, or the way that rookies like Tyler Smith and Sam Williams have stepped up far quicker than anticipated, this has been a big year so far for the Cowboys’ scouting department. They knew what they had in a lot of players and trusted in them to make an impact.
Most of all, especially on defense, this comes down to faith in the guys running the show. Dan Quinn has his crew ready to play every week and giving maximum effort. And while Kellen Moore isn’t above reproach as offensive coordinator, he also did a sound job of calling the right offense while Dak was injured to maximize strengths and hide weaknesses.
Perhaps the biggest apology of all goes to Mike McCarthy. I will freely admit that I’ve never been enthralled with McCarthy as head coach. If not for Aaron Rodgers, would he have accomplished anymore in Green Bay than Jason Garrett did in Dallas? I’m still not sure.
But the way that this team weathered the storm of Prescott’s injury and are now positioned in the NFC is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen from any Cowboys head coach in the last 25 years. If McCarthy is coaching for his job in 2022 then he’s certainly succeeding so far. We assumed that Dallas might be easing up on talent acquisition as a way of sabotaging Mike and preparing for a change, but instead it may have been a vote of confidence in his ability to coach up the players they had.
Ultimately this all seems to come down to trust; the lack of it that some had in certain players and coaches and the faith the Cowboys had in their personnel. So far, the pessimists are being proven wrong.
Let’s hope that continues all the way to number six.