The Dallas Cowboys’ 2020 offseason brought the biggest change we’ve seen for the team in over a decade. Several key members of the 2019 Dallas Cowboys coaching staff have left the team, and the defensive side of the ball was picked apart by other teams during free agency. This left multiple holes that needed to be addressed by this front office in both free agency and the draft. In this article, we’ll cover the most important changes to the coaching staff, as well as examine the numerous roster changes made during free agency.
Reviewing the Dallas Cowboys’ transformative 2020 OffseasonTweet
Let’s start at the top, shall we? Going into the 2020 offseason, The Dallas Cowboys decided not to renew the expiring contract of head coach Jason Garrett after 13 seasons with the team. Jerry Jones set sky-high expectations for the 2019 Cowboys squad after an impressive 11-5 2018 campaign. Instead, the team stumbled their way through an equally disappointing 8-8 season. Garrett’s tenure with the Cowboys was riddled with these middling seasons, mixed with the occasional Divisional Round appearance. It was clear that the Cowboys would never achieve their Super Bowl aspirations with Garrett in charge, and that a change needed to be made.
After a brief period of interviews, the Cowboys decided to hire Mike McCarthy to replace Garrett. Many Cowboys fans associate McCarthy with the 2014 (Dez Caught It) and the 2016 (who can forget Rodgers’ pinpoint throw to Jared freaking Cook) playoff losses, ending the season of two of the best Cowboys teams of the decade.
Now, however, old grudges must make way for hopeful optimism. Many people criticized McCarthy near the end of his Packers tenure for his increasingly stale offense. The head coach spent his year off retooling and revamping his offensive scheme. In an interview with Peter King McCarthy addressed these changes, as well as his critics. He admitted that in his last few years at Green Bay, the offense ran less and less pre-snap motions and shifts. Interestingly, he pointed to offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s offense as one he admired and hinted that his offense of the future would be heavily influenced by Moore’s style. Keep in mind that this interview aired before McCarthy was hired as the Cowboys coach. This should make any Cowboys fan excited about the prospect of McCarthy and Moore working together for the 2020 season.
The front office completely changed the defensive coaching staff this offseason. Only Leon Lett, assistant defensive line coach, was retained by McCarthy: the rest of the staff was let go. McCarthy brought in Mike Nolan to serve as the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator. Nolan was most recently the linebacker’s coach for the New Orleans Saints. He should be excited to now have the extremely talented duo of Leighton Vander-Esch and Jaylon Smith. Nolan also has previous experience coaching with Mike McCarthy, as McCarthy was Nolan’s offensive coordinator with the 49ers. You can expect to see the Cowboys use more blitzing and more variety in defensive coverage in 2020. McCarthy also hired legendary D-Line coach Jim Tomsula, widely regarded as one of the best positional coaches in the game. These changes have Cowboys fans optimistic for the coming season.
Another key change in the coaching staff was bringing in John Fassel to replace Keith O’Quinn as the special teams coordinator. For Cowboys fans, this change is almost as exciting as the head coaching change. O’Quinn failed as special teams coordinator, as the Cowboy’s special teams unit ranked 30th in the league by DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), besting only the Panthers and Chargers. Watching the 2019 Cowboys team certainly reflected that. The Cowboys consistently had longer fields than their opponents which required longer, more methodical drives down the field rather than the quick-score chances other top teams create. Fassel is a special teams guru who lead the Rams to top units in 2017 and 2018. While the 2019 unit stumbled a bit, ranking 23rd overall by DVOA, their punting unit was still top five. This change indicates that the FO is taking the special teams problem seriously.
Other Notable Changes: Doug Nussmeier is the new Quarterback’s coach, replacing John Kitna. Joe Filbin takes over the Offensive Line duties for Mark Columbo.
Player Departures: Offense
Just like the coaching staff, the Dallas Cowboys’ roster saw a lot of changes over the course of free agency. With the contracts of Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper looming large, the team was choosy about who to retain and who to let walk. The offensive side of the ball remained relatively unchanged from free agency. The biggest losses include Randall Cobb to the Texans, and Xavier Sua-Filo to the Bengals. Considering that Cobb got $9M/year from the Texans and that Sua-Filo was merely a depth piece, the Cowboys were ok with letting these guys go.
The biggest blow to the offense this offseason came in the form of long-time center Travis Frederick’s sudden retirement. Frederick sat out the 2018 season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre disease. He was able to return to play center for the 2019 season. However, Frederick said in his retirement statement that he felt noticeably worse and decided he couldn’t play up to the standard that he had for himself.
This leaves an All-Pro sized hole at center for 2020. There are reasons for optimism though. Joe Looney played well for Frederick in the 2018 season. Also, the Cowboys drafted OG Connor McGovern in the 2019 draft. McGovern spent the year recovering from a torn pectoral muscle suffered during preseason last year, but the Cowboys had a second-round grade on him coming out of college and he has experience playing both guard and center. The Cowboys are excited to see what they have in him this year. It’s possible that the Cowboys address this hole at some point in the draft, but with two possible in-house solutions don’t be surprised if it’s in the later rounds.
Player Departures: Defense
The rest of the league picked apart Dallas’ 2019 defense in free agency. The Cowboys lost four defensive starters, for instance, each of them a major contributor.
The biggest name to leave was Byron Jones, who signed an $82M dollar contract with the Dolphins. Jones is an athletic coverage corner who has played lights out for the Cowboys over the last two years. He consistently locked up one side of the field. The only thing keeping the Cowboys from paying Jones was his lack of turnovers: his last interception came when he was still playing safety in 2017. Ultimately, the Cowboys deemed Jones the most replaceable out of their core group, and opted to let him go. This leaves a massive hole at outside corner for the Cowboys.
Another big departure was Robert Quinn to the Bears on a $70M contract. Quinn stepped in extremely well for Randy Gregory after the Cowboys acquired him in a trade with the Dolphins for a sixth round pick last offseason. That sixth rounder turned into an impressive 11 sacks in the 2019 season which lead the team. While it would have been great to keep Quinn in Dallas, $70M is simply too much money when considering the other players Dallas needs to keep locked up. Other notable losses were Jeff Heath, a starter at safety and heavy contributor to special teams, and Maliek Collins, a pass-rushing 3 tech who struggles against the run.
Other departures: Cowboys legend Jason Witten left to sign a one year contract with the Raiders.
2020 Offseason Acquisitions
The Cowboys approached free agency the same as previous years despite the new coaching staff. They let the first week play out, biding their time to avoid overpaying for any big-name players. Then, they filled what roster holes they could by giving mid to lower tier contracts to under-valued veterans.
Two big names to mention here are Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. Both come to the Cowboys from the 2019 Panthers squad. McCoy and Poe provide the kind of size at the DT position the Cowboys haven’t had since Jay Ratliff. A six-time pro bowler, McCoy contributed five sacks and 37 tackles to the Panthers defense last year. He instantly becomes one of the most talented interior defenders the team has had in years. Poe provides much needed size in the run game. After seeing the DT position filled with slimmer, pass rush-oriented 3 Techs for years under Marinelli’s scheme, Cowboys fans will finally be treated to the sight of two big tackles holding their ground against offensive lines.
Another notable addition to the Cowboys defense is safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, signed from the Bears. Clinton-Dix most recently played for the Bears and division-rival Redskins in 2019. He brings good range and some decent play-making ability to the FS position, allowing Xavier Woods to play closer to the line of scrimmage. He also has familiarity with McCarthy, having played under him for four seasons in Green Bay.
These acquisitions sill leave numerous holes on the defensive side of the ball, most notably at cornerback, EDGE, and safety. On the offensive side, Cobb’s departure leaves the slot position lacking, which is a good problem to have in a historically loaded WR draft. Look for my next article to see how the Cowboys could address these needs in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
Other notable additions: Greg Zuerlein was signed to a 3 year, $7.5M contract to reunite with Fassel in Dallas.