Sorry Cowboy fans but the Dallas Cowboys will not be tanking this year to get that premium draft pick you’re wanting.
When Dak Prescott went down for the year with a severe ankle injury, Cowboys fans, sports writers, and TV personalities were optimistic veteran and former Pro Bowler Andy Dalton could lead them to the playoffs.
It was not a total surprise for football fans to feel positive. After all, the Cowboys still had an amazing receiving core and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. Many football personalities, like Tony Dungy, even speculated this could be a blessing in disguise as the Cowboys could get back to their meat and potato offense that relied so heavily on Elliott’s run game while Dalton, who not long ago was the face of the Bengals’ franchise, could properly manage games to obtain the necessary victories.
Then Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals came to his home away from home and he and Budda Baker proceeded to make the Cowboys look silly.
The following week the Cowboy’s made the trip to Washington to take on the Football Team, and were unable to score a single touchdown. To make matters worse, Dalton suffered a concussion in the process, leaving Dallas down another QB and leaving fans to question the toughness and camaraderie within the organization.
The team looked like it was bound for failure. No Prescott to get the ball to the three-headed monster receiving core, no Tyron Smith or La’el Collins to provide necessary protection for any backup QB, or even open lanes for Elliott. Leighton Vander Esch, the starting middle linebacker, missed four weeks. Starting cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Chidobe Awuzie each missed a sizable chunk of the season.
It’s been a rough go for the Cowboys all season, much of which can be credited to an inexperienced secondary and an unprotected QB that doesn’t have Prescott’s same “it” factor.
Cowboys fans have been disappointed by the season, but in darkness came light.
Tanking, a term used to describe a team intentionally trying to lose games in an effort to obtain a higher draft pick, is more popular in the NBA, but has also found its way into the NFL in recent years.
Take one look at the New York Jets roster, mid-season decisions, and the incoming Trevor Lawrence. The Jets may not have come out and said they’re tanking, like Joel Embiid of the 76ers with the famous phrase of, “Trust the Process,” but benching a young and talented QB, trading away your best linebacker and Pro Bowl safety, and retaining the head coach who many consider to be the worst in the league certainly makes it obvious what they’re doing in the Meadowlands.
It makes perfect sense for the Cowboys, right? They land picks at the top of each round and then Dak comes back, Collins comes back, and hopefully Smith comes back. The franchise is gifted with the opportunity to add top-tier talent to an already loaded team.
Many fans found themselves salivating over the possibility.
Experts say that the Cowboys top needs are as follows: defensive tackles, offensive tackles, and secondary. There are some that believe linebacker is a big need, but due to Vander Esch’s recent stretch of quality play, may allow the Cowboys to delay finding the replacement for the oft-injured linebacker from Idaho.
Tanking for the Cowboys was a popular decision not just because of the idea of grabbing a talented player, but the idea of a trading down and loading up on a “king’s ransom” of draft picks.
This upcoming draft class features a potentially quarterback-heavy class: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the freshman phenom who dominated Alabama; Justin Fields, the athletic gunslinger at Ohio State; and then there’s Mac Jones from Alabama and Zach Wilson from BYU, each of whom have come out of nowhere this season and made experts reevaluate their draft rankings. Dark horse candidates like North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Florida’s Kyle Trask will likely have some General Managers paying closer attention come draft season.
The history of the draft has taught fans that many NFL teams are willing to make over-the-top trades in order to obtain “their guy” at QB. Sometimes it’s a huge success. Take Kansas City trading up to take Patrick Mahomes, or Buffalo trading up to take Josh Allen. Other times, not so much, like when the Chicago Bears traded up one pick to select Mitchell Trubisky, passing on Mahomes and DeShaun Watson in the process.
Heading into Week 11, the Cowboys were holding the 3rd pick in the 2021 NFL draft, which had many fans dreaming of teams like the Chicago Bears or San Francisco 49ers, teams who have a dominant defense but struggling quarterbacks, calling Dallas on draft day willing to make a deal. A team like this might be willing to trade up to take “their guy” in order to get to the next level, or even a dominant team with an aging legend the New Orleans Saints or Pittsburgh Steelers could trade up to take one of the loaded guns at QB. Regardless of who, and regardless of what happens to that player and franchise, plenty of Cowboys fans were in love with the thought of trading down, obtaining more picks and players to fill in the holes on this roster.
Until something surprising happened.
The Minnesota Vikings were set to host the Cowboys in Week 12. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings still have a chance to make the playoffs, and they have Dalvin Cook, possibly the best running back in the NFL. They also have an offense that features Adam Thielen and his everlasting consistency at wide receiver, plus the emergence of rookie Justin Jefferson showing that he could be one of the best WR for years to come. Minnesota has a talented roster with plenty to fight for, and yet the Cowboys won in Minnesota.
The score indicated a close game, but this Cowboys team looked tough. It shouldn’t be a total surprise to fans. After all, other than Trevon Diggs and Trysten Hill, the defense was fully healthy. Preseason star of the past, Donovan Wilson, played the best game of his career. DeMarcus Lawrence, who has been the main pass-rusher for Dallas in recent years, played his best game of the season. The defense looked good.
The defense still struggled at times, Cook still ran for over a 100-yards, but given he’s put up multiple 200-yard performances this season, the Dallas D got off easy.
Meanwhile, Dalton avoided making big mistakes, Elliot had his first 100-yard game of the season, and electric rookie CeeDee Lamb outshined Jefferson thanks in large part to one of the best catches of the season.
So why is head coach Mike McCarthy not welcoming a losing season?
A new head coach, even one with a Super Bowl title to his name, does not take on a new role with a franchise with the plans of losing.
The better question is, how can fans tell McCarthy isn’t trying to lose?
One key coaching decision.
Marshall Yanda is retired, and Quenton Nelson is a great guard for the Colts. However, Zach Martin has been the experienced, consistent All-Pro guard, which now solidifies him as the best guard in football.
The argument can be made that, due to poor performances from the backup tackles, no backup quarterback is going to be able to make positive plays through the air. As talented as the Cowboys receivers are, they need time to run their routes if they’re going to get open, and their QB needs the time to drop back and deliver the ball.
McCarthy’s big key decision was moving Martin to right tackle, a position he has not played since his time at Notre Dame. The move allowed Connor McGovern, a third round pick from two years ago, to take Martin’s place at right guard.
How did that work out for the Cowboys? Dalton completed 22 of 32 pass attempts, including three touchdowns. Much of his production came from having more time in the pocket than he’d had in weeks prior. Elliott had his first 100-yard performance. In a nutshell, making this change to the offensive line was a big factor in the offense being able to move the ball and score points for the first time in four weeks.
Dallas played very well defensively, but decisions like this one show that McCarthy is not willing to give up and tank on the season. Perhaps this is a good sign. Having a coach who is not willing to lose in any circumstance sounds like a positive thing. However, to those who are sad to not have the high draft pick, they will continue to be disappointed, as is the norm for many Cowboy fans.