Final installment in a three-part series looking at the Giants’ NFC East foes.
Mike McCarthy’s greatest glory came at AT&T Stadium, nearly a decade ago, when he won a Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas, as coach of the Packers. Little did anyone know, McCarthy one day would be back at that football palace, not as a visitor but as the home team head coach, wearing the star and assuming the requisite pressure inherent in running a team owned by Jerry Jones.
Coaches with McCarthy’s sparkling résumé — 125-77-2 in 13 seasons (nine playoff appearances) in Green Bay — customarily are not on the open market often or for very long. When Jones decided, grudgingly and even tearfully, to part ways with Jason Garrett, there was one stipulation for next in line. He had to be ready and capable of finally getting the Cowboys back to a Super Bowl.
Jones has waited 24 years and is growing impatient. McCarthy, 56, is in win-now mode and tasked with getting an underachieving operation over the hump.
Here is a look at the 2020 Cowboys
What they were
For the first time since 2015, the Cowboys in 2019 failed to put together a winning record, despite a fast start (3-0). A three-game losing streak and losses in four of six games was the death-knell for Garrett, who was fired following the season after more than a decade as the coach (he landed with the NFC East rival Giants as offensive coordinator). A team considered head-and-shoulders above the pack in a weak division finished 8-8 and was eliminated from the playoffs in Week 17, despite having six Pro Bowl players and more talent than anyone else in the NFC East.
CB Byron Jones (signed by the Dolphins), C Travis Frederick (retired), DE Robert Quinn (signed by the Bears), WR Randall Cobb (signed by the Texans), DT Maliek Collins (signed by the Raiders), TE Jason Witten (signed by the Raiders), S Jeff Heath (signed by the Raiders).
Veterans: DT Gerald McCoy, DT Dontari Poe, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, K Greg Zuerlein, QB Andy Dalton, CB Maurice Canady.
NFL draft: WR CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma), CB Trevon Diggs (Alabama), DT Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma), C Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin).
A ton of money was needed to keep the band together, and it remains to be seen how Dak Prescott will react to getting paid the franchise tag amount of $30.5 million for this season. Prescott wants a long-term deal that makes him the highest-paid player in the NFL — at least until the Chiefs ante up for Patrick Mahomes — and the debate rages on, inside and outside the Dallas area, whether Prescott is worth it. He is darn good, and perhaps McCarthy, after helping in the development of Aaron Rodgers, will get Prescott to the next level.
McCarthy knows how to run a successful offense, and most of the pieces are in place for him, with Amari Cooper (five years, $100 million) becoming the league’s second highest-paid wide receiver. Ezekiel Elliott is coming off another sensational season, Lamb might be the most explosive rookie in the NFL, and the offensive line remains a quality outfit and the heart and soul of the team — especially if Joe Looney (or perhaps Biadasz as a rookie) can step in without missing a beat at center.
McCarthy brought in NFL lifer Mike Nolan to run a defense that will miss Jones at cornerback and must replace Quinn, the sack leader in 2019 with 11.5. The linebackers, led by Jaylon Smith and emerging Leighton Van Esch, are excellent, though giving troubled Aldon Smith another chance could backfire in a big way.
Reason for hope
Perhaps this team grew tired of what Garrett was selling and needed to hear a different voice. There is plenty of talent and a proven base of players who need to get into the playoffs and win a few games once they get there. It is time for the ’Boys to become men.
Reason for despair
The defensive backfield might turn out to be a weak link, and it remains to be seen if the ho-hum group of receivers in the division can take full advantage of this.
McCarthy spent a year out of the league, self-assessing and revamping his offense, and he has surrounded himself with many of the same assistants he had in Green Bay. He says, “I missed the energy of everything,’’ and it appears he is rejuvenated. He will be under fire right away, as there is no easing in for a veteran in his position.
First place in the NFC East.