Cowboys' Late Surge Provides Hope for 2021

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 30, 2020

Dallas Cowboys' Joe Looney (73), and Tony Pollard (20) celebrate with Michael Gallup (13) after his touchdown catch in the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27. 2020. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

When Dak Prescott was ruled out for the 2020 NFL season after Week 5, the Dallas Cowboys could have declared their season over then. 

Instead, the Cowboys fought back into a tie for first place in the NFC East alongside the Washington Football Team.

Dallas enters Week 17 with a chance to clinch the NFC East crown through a win over the New York Giants and a loss by Washington against the Philadelphia Eagles

Although there are still plenty of flaws within the squad, mainly on defense, the Cowboys pieced together a solid season and built a decent foundation for 2021 when Prescott returns. 

Offensively, the Cowboys developed two skill position players that should play major roles moving forward in the Mike McCarthy era. 

Tony Pollard has outperformed Ezekiel Elliott in a handful of games and has been a nice asset for Andy Dalton to call upon in the passing game. 

Pollard has 420 rushing yards, 174 receiving yards and five total touchdowns, which is two fewer than Elliott recorded as the feature back. 

Pollard's progression would be one of the reasons the Cowboys could try to get out of the monster contract they awarded Elliott. 

Elliott has a fully guaranteed $9.6 million salary for the 2021 season as part of the six-year, $90 million deal he inked. 

It will be hard for the Cowboys to find a trade partner to take on Elliott's massive deal, but if they can somehow move him off the roster, it would open up more salary-cap space. Some of that cap space could go to signing Prescott to a long-term deal. 

If Elliott remains in Dallas for next season and beyond, the Cowboys may have to tailor their offense to feature two primary backs, instead of relying on their big-money man. 

That strategy would come with its detractors since the Cowboys are paying Elliott so much money, but it may be the smart move given how both running backs have performed this season.

Dallas is not lacking talent at wide receiver, either, as first-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb is second behind Amari Cooper on the team's receiving yardage chart and is tied with Cooper and Michael Gallup for the most receiving touchdowns. 

Lamb is not the best rookie wideout in the league. That title belongs to Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, but he has displayed plenty of talent alongside the team's veteran wideouts. 

While some critics could argue that Dallas should have picked a top defensive talent back in April, Lamb is justifying the pick and could be a menace to opposing defenses next to Cooper for years to come. 

Where the Cowboys lack some momentum for 2021 is on defense. Eight of their 15 opponents recorded more than 400 total yards, and their last six foes eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground. 

Dallas deserves some credit for improving in the turnover department. It has a six-game takeaway streak and forced 10 turnovers against the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles in the last three weeks. 

But the long-term investment is not there on the defensive side of the ball. At the moment, DeMarcus Lawrence is the only defensive player with one of the six highest salaries for 2021. 

Dallas will have to do some work on its secondary, as it has four cornerbacks and two safeties under contract for next season. Only Anthony Brown is slated to make more than $1 million in base salary from that group of players. 

If the Cowboys attack the back end of the defense in the draft, they could have a much more formidable unit to complement the offense that has kept them alive in the hunt for a postseason position.

Even if the Cowboys fall short of the division title, McCarthy has to be impressed with his team's approach in the last month, and those signs of improvement could make Dallas a more intriguing free-agent destination and the potential NFC East favorite in 2021. 


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference

Contract information obtained from Spotrac


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