Cowboys' Offseason Failures Will Doom Dallas for 2022 NFL Season

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2022

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper walks in the bench area during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
Roger Steinman/Associated Press

We haven't seen an NFC East team repeat as a division winner since the Philadelphia Eagles from 2001-04, and that trend will likely continue into next year. The Dallas Cowboys have lost just enough talent without adequately replacing it to fall from first place in 2022.

They could have avoided some of their offseason blunders, but Dallas made a poor decision at wide receiver. On top of that, the team's stance on contract structure will backfire if the front office doesn't hit on a premium draft pick or use its cap space ($15.5 million) wisely.

Owner Jerry Jones and COO, executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones agreed on two key draft needs, per The Athletic's Jon Machota

"When asked this week, Stephen Jones mentioned wide receiver, tight end and offensive line. Jerry Jones mentioned pass rusher, offensive line and tight end," Machota wrote last Friday.

Let's start with Dallas' biggest miscalculation at wideout.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys thought they'd be able to retain Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson Jr. as the team planned to part ways with Amari Cooper:

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

From our Combine coverage: The #Cowboys believe they can keep FA WRs Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson if they move on from Amari Cooper. https://t.co/Oo8JiH9I6r

The Cowboys whiffed on that plan. They traded Cooper and a sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a fifth- and a sixth-rounder and re-signed Gallup on a five-year deal worth $57.5 million in base value, but Wilson inked a three-year, $22.1 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Quarterback Dak Prescott has a go-to target in CeeDee Lamb, but he lost a receiver with two 1,100-plus-yard campaigns and a couple of Pro Bowl years with the Cowboys in Cooper. Say what you want about his down 2021 campaign, but he immediately uplifted the team's offensive attack after the club acquired him from the then-Oakland Raiders before the 2018 trade deadline.

In the second half of the 2021 term, Wilson built a connection with Prescott, racking up 100-plus receiving yards for Weeks 12 and 18. Dallas will miss him as the No. 3 wideout, especially with a question mark in the No. 2 spot.

Gallup tore his ACL in January, and team brass thinks he could sit out multiple games to start the 2022 season:

Michael Gehlken @GehlkenNFL

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on WR Michael Gallup’s timeline from ACL surgery: “Optimistically, I expect him to give us a question mark around the first game. And I see a conversation that says conservatively, you would like to have a couple more games to get him out there.”

Clarence Hill Jr @clarencehilljr

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said receiver Michael Gallup could miss two or three games at the beginning of the season.

With the current roster, James Washington, whom the club signed in free agency, would have a chance to fill a major void at wideout. In 2019, he posted decent numbers with the Pittsburgh Steelers, hauling in 44 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns, but the fifth-year pro has recorded 54 catches for 677 yards and seven touchdowns since then.

With a 52.3 percent catch rate, Washington may need a sizeable target share to produce because of his pass-catching inefficiencies, which isn't ideal with Lamb growing into a lead role and the team's investment in Gallup.

The Cowboys "expressed interest" in DeVante Parker before the Dolphins traded him to the New England Patriots, per ESPN's Adam Schefter: 

Until Gallup returns to action, tight end Dalton Schultz may have to complement Lamb as the No. 2 option in the aerial attack. Dallas will probably add another pass-catching tight end for insurance. Regardless, expect the Cowboys' 2021 second-ranked passing offense to take a hit without Cooper and Wilson. 

Perhaps the front office should've held on to Cooper and restructured running back Ezekiel Elliott's deal and left tackle Tyron Smith's contract, which would've saved the team about $17.4 million, per Over the Cap.

The Cowboys lost a couple of key players on the offensive line as well. Left guard Connor Williams signed with the Dolphins, and the team released La'el Collins, who inked a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2021, the two offensive linemen played 1,619 offensive snaps and allowed three sacks combined, per Pro Football Focus. 

Though Williams and Collins struggled with penalties, and the latter missed 21 games over the past two seasons, the Cowboys may have to rely on Connor McGovern and Terence Steele to fill the left guard and right tackle spots, respectively, which is a gamble.

As a swing tackle with extensive experience on the right side, Steele has made 27 starts in two seasons but has to settle into a full-time role. This hurts the depth behind Smith, who's missed 23 games since 2020 and at least three games in each of the past six seasons.

If Steele doesn't transition into a full-time position seamlessly or Smitah continues to battle injuries, Prescott may have to use his legs a little more to compensate for shaky pass protection. On top of that, the ball carriers could see tighter running lanes on the backside and around the edge.

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

One of the teams that expressed interest in acquiring WR Devante Parker before New England ultimately did was the Dallas Cowboys, per league sources. Dallas not done looking to add another WR.

In addition to key departures for an offense that accumulated the most points and yards last season, Dallas also lost a pass-rusher in Randy Gregory, who had a change of heart and signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency. 

According to ESPN's Ed Werder via Jeff Legwold, Gregory took an exception to a clause in the Cowboys' contract structure.

"The clause Gregory objected to—voiding his contract if fined/suspended for any drug offense or violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy—was not included in his previous Cowboys contract and also wasn't mentioned in Monday's contract talks, which lasted until midnight, a source told Werder," Legwold wrote.

Because of Gregory's history of suspensions, the Cowboys made the right decision to stand by the language in their deal. On the other hand, they fully guaranteed DeMarcus Lawrence's new contract (three years for $30 million), which compounds the team's need at defensive end.

Edge-rusher Randy Gregory
Edge-rusher Randy GregoryTerrance Williams/Associated Press

Lawrence hasn't come close to matching the pass-rushing numbers from his 2018 Pro Bowl season when he recorded 10.5 sacks and 42 quarterback pressures. In 2021, he underwent foot surgery, which cost him 10 games. Lawrence finished with three sacks and 12 pressures.

Dallas approached Lawrence about a pay cut, but he declined, per Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. At that point, the Cowboys should've designated him as a post-June 1 cut to maximize their savings on his previous deal.

They could've double-dipped at defensive end within the first four rounds to replace a declining pass-rusher entering his age-30 season. With the cap space saved, the front office would've had a chance to pursue veteran pass-rushers (after June 1) on reasonable and flexible contracts.

The Cowboys retained Dorance Armstrong and signed Dante Fowler Jr., who logged 4.5 sacks and 17 pressures with the Atlanta Falcons last season. That's a Band-Aid on a position that needs more help. 

Head coach Mike McCarthy said the coaching staff won't move 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons to defensive end after he led the team in sacks (13) and pressures (47) last season. As a result, the Cowboys will need Lawrence to bounce back while someone emerges on the opposite side to replace Gregory, who registered six sacks and 29 pressures in 2021.

The Cowboys can patch up their front seven with another pass-rusher or two via the draft or free agency, but they have a lot of ground to make up on the offensive side of the ball. Unless team brass trusts Steele and McGovern in full-time starting roles, Dallas has to address the offensive line and wide receiver early in the 2022 draft, which shrinks the margin for error with a potential pick at defensive end.

Meanwhile, in the division, the Washington Commanders upgraded at quarterback with Carson Wentz, and the Eagles, coming off a playoff appearance, added a pass-rusher in Haason Reddick, who's logged double-digit sacks in back-to-back campaigns.

The Cowboys' league-leading scoring offense from the 2021 season won't look the same, and their defense needs a consistent front-line pass-rusher to complement Parsons. With those pressing issues, Dallas could lose its hold on the NFC East title and struggle to make it back to the playoffs in 2022.


Team cap space and player contracts are provided by Over the Cap.

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @MoeMoton.