FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys’ season ended nearly a month ago in just as disappointing fashion as the previous 26: without a Super Bowl.
Since the divisional round playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Mike McCarthy has become offensive play coordinator, Dan Quinn has remained defensive coordinator, Kellen Moore has stepped down and been replaced as offensive coordinator. By Brian Schottenheimer. Some players have had off-season surgeries. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has expressed optimism that his team is close, and executive vice president Stephen Jones hinted at another 10 years with Dak Prescott at quarterback for the Cowboys.
Perhaps a four-day dark retreat would do him as much good as Aaron Rodgers thinks it will do him.
But before we jump to 2023, let’s take a quick look at 2022. Yes, another season ended without an NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl appearance, but there were a few things the Cowboys did right.
Drafting Tyler Smith in the first round
The Cowboys faced a lot of questions when they drafted Smith 24th overall. For a team that only had penalty trouble in 2021, drafting an offensive lineman who had 16 penalties (12 hold calls) in his final season in Tulsa seemed risky.
He was drafted as the left tackle of the future and was seen as the left guard of the present when he was drafted. The plan was to gain some experience and then move up to the most important position in the line. Then Tyron Smith suffered a torn hamstring in training camp and underwent surgery that kept him out for the first 13 games of the regular season. Tyler Smith then became the present-day left tackle, and he pulled it off very well. There are refinements that will need to happen, but he has the strength, temperament and ability to be a decade-long starter at left tackle.
“He’s an alpha,” McCarthy said.
Do not re-sign Randy Gregory
This could be more luck than skill on the Cowboys’ part. They were set to sign him to a five-year, $70 million contract when free agency began, but his agent balked at the contract language and ended up signing with the Denver Broncos for the same length and price.
As a result, the Cowboys were able to re-sign DE Dorance Armstrong, add DE Dante Fowler Jr., and had money left over to add LB Anthony Barr in training camp.
Gregory played in six games, missing a good portion of the season due to knee surgery. He had two sacks. Armstrong and Fowler played in all 17 games and had 8.5 and 6 sacks, respectively, while consuming a combined $1 million more in cap space than Gregory did in Denver.
Believing CeeDee Lamb was ready for the No. 1 receiver role.
This is something they got right and mistaken. Lamb showed he was ready to be No. 1 by finishing with 107 catches for 1,359 yards and 9 touchdowns. He handled the extra attention well, and his ability to play multiple places made him a tough matchup for opposing defenses. He was named to the Pro Bowl and earned second-team All-Pro honors.
Here’s the wrong part: To make Lamb No. 1, the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper, which wasn’t necessarily a mistake. The mistake was how they replaced Cooper. They re-signed Michael Gallup, but he was coming off a torn ACL in his left knee. They added James Washington in free agency and drafted Jalen Tolbert in the third round. Washington broke his foot in the first pad practice of training camp and didn’t catch a pass in the two games he played before he was released. Tolbert caught two passes.
The Cowboys added veteran TY Hilton late in the season, and he made a difference, but the Cowboys’ outside passing game was limited beyond Lamb.
In addition to hoping Gallup is better after a full year without ACL surgery, they need to add more to the receiving room in 2023.
Believing Terence Steele was ready to be the starting right tackle
Again, some of this is fluke, because if La’el Collins hadn’t been waived in 2021, the Cowboys wouldn’t have been able to release him, as he had $10 million guaranteed left on his contract. The suspension voided the guarantee and allowed the Cowboys to give Steele the job.
Before he suffered an ACL and MCL tear, he was doing great. He and All-Pro guard Zack Martin formed a dominant right-hand side, and his absence was felt down the stretch. As long as they feel good about his knee, the Cowboys would do well to sign Steele, who is slated to be a restricted free agent, to a long-term deal this offseason.
Jerry Jones might have made it a bit confusing at the start of the 2022 offseason by keeping McCarthy in limbo, but the best move the Cowboys made was keeping Quinn as defensive coordinator. He had opportunities as head coach, but Jones was able to convince him (give him more money) to stay in the place he liked with a defense that has a lot of talent (Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs). The Cowboys became the first defense to lead the league in takeaways in back-to-back seasons since the Steel Curtain Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.
Perhaps next offseason “Keeping Dan Quinn” will be on the “things the Cowboys did right” list, since he pulled his name off head coaching vacancies to coach Dallas’ defense for a third year.