By Paul Mainwaring

As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.

In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Dallas Cowboys:

2020 Recap

Dallas Cowboys 2020
Credit: Mark Brown (Getty Images)

When a team has a win total number in Vegas of 9.5 and only finish with 6, it will be seen as a disappointment. When it is the Dallas Cowboys, it will be seen as a disaster. America’s team finished 3rd in the most underwhelming division in football, which means major questions on the direction of the franchise.

Of course, the season-ending injury to Dak had a major bearing on the season. However the issues for this team were blatantly apparent before that. The defense was horrible all year and allowed 30 points a game, and regardless of how good your offense is, allowing that many points is not conducive to winning football.

The Cowboys have a lot to fix for 2021 and I am sure Jerry and the team are working hard from their yacht to get it sorted.

Staff Changes

Credit: USA Today Sports

Given that the defense was so bad last year it is no surprise that Mike Nolan left his post. He had been out of the league a considerable time and unfortunately for the Cowboys it showed. Mike McCarthy has looked to Dan Quinn to sort out their defensive issues, and this points to a return to the scheme the Cowboys played from 2013 to 2019, most notably under Rod Marinelli. Quinn has also brought former Falcons Outside Linebackers coach Aden Durde to run the Defensive Line, and he will take over from Jim Tomsula.

State Of The Roster

If you listen to American sports talk TV and Radio, people will continually talk about the talent on the Cowboys roster and there is some justification. The issue is that a lot of this talent is it’s talent in name only, and they really struggled on the field. At present, how 2021 goes will be defined by what they do at QB and with their defense. Unless they sign Dak or improve the talent on the defensive side of the ball not much will change for the Cowboys in 2021

Salary Cap & Cut Candidates

Jerry Jones will tell you every year that he is all in, but to fix this roster he may need to complete some creative accounting this season. At present, the Cowboys are around $18 million under the Cap but this quickly changes to $5million over if they franchise Dak. This move is expected but does mean cuts will be needed elsewhere.

One place the Cowboys could save money is by cutting Linebacker Jaylon Smith. Last season he played poorly, often being out of place and moving in the wrong direction. Will a change in DC mean a reprieve for Smith? It might do but the $7.2 Million they can save if he is a post-June 1st cut may mean he has to go.

Another big name who could be a cut candidate is Tackle Tyron Smith. A former all-pro, Smith has struggled to stay healthy for a number of years now and the $10.5 million that could be saved if he is cut post-June 1st may mean the Cowboys look to get younger and cheaper at the position.

Free Agents

MVP 2020

The obvious place to focus here is Dak Prescott. The offseason strategy could be seen to hinge on what happens with Dak; whether it be a long-term deal or the Franchise Tag it will have a significant bearing on the Cowboys’ cap situation. If he gets to free agency he would be the top free agent on the market and his loss would seriously hamper the Cowboys. They simply have to get something done.

Regardless of what happens with Dak I assume re-signing Andy Dalton will be a priority. Dalton did exactly what you would want from a veteran backup in 2020 and given, the concerns at the position, I believe signing Dalton will give some stability even if it is just at the backup position.

One good story in 2020 for Dallas was Aldon Smith. He will be 31 in the 2021 season but given the reduced miles on the clock thanks to his past incidents, he may be a cheap option to help the Cowboys get better on defense.

Team Needs

Credit: Associated Press

It is tough to argue that the major areas of team need for Dallas aren’t all on defense. Last year the Cowboys really struggled to stop the run and also generate any pressure up the middle, so defensive tackle must be high on the team radar. They also struggled from the edge, so this needs addressing – but not as much as in the middle.

In the secondary there are major holes, and given the free agents it is likely that the Cowboys will need at least 2 starting corners. Free safety also needs a major upgrade given the liability in coverage they had in that position last season.

If we look on offense, age and injury suggest the Cowboys should really be looking to go younger on the offensive line. Given the issues they had protecting whichever QB they had back there last season, it would be prudent to give the unit a fresh injection of talent.

Paul Mainwaring

NFL Analyst

A former UKEndzone writer, Paul has been dragged out of an enforced retirement to give his thoughts on the NFL and anything else  he can slide past the editorial team.

Paul is most famous (infamous?) as Mainz one half of Waxing Lyrical. alongside his Partner in Crime Neil Dutts Dutton.

Find him @Mainzey7 where all manner of sports are on the menu.