The Cowboys lost three key players and the replacement solution has fallen short (2023)

We are 12 days until the season opens and for the Cowboys, we can look at this season from a number of perspectives. Thankfully, we have shown for a very long time that August predictions are seldom clairvoyant. Try as we might fathom what might be ahead, we really are just guessing.

But, it is in the final hours of this last month when we should be able to get a decent night’s sleep that I thought I would begin looking at the journey in front of us. By mid-January, the Cowboys will be in a fully developed form of 2022, but the range of possibilities of what that means varies dramatically. They may have begun to build toward progress and could win multiple games in the same postseason for the first time since many readers have been alive, or they could have already hired a new coach and left the last one by the side of the road.


Projecting that requires knowing how many turns there might be in the road and how well players we hardly think about will have developed into something worth believing in. Someone basically anonymous right now could become worthy of buying his jersey in the pro shop in a few months. Or, we will wonder why we ever thought this whole thing might work.

The looming questions abound. Every year around here is a referendum on the way the Cowboys do their business and the way it is destined to never change. Therefore, we spend more time fixating on the changes that can happen — hey, let’s fire this position coach — almost like the Cowboys have some version of the Serenity Prayer:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things the Cowboys will never change, courage in hoping they change the things they can some day, and the wisdom to know that this is just football and there are more important things in life to consider.”

(Video) Cowboys DB Byron Jones pops knee back in place and continues to play😧️

Instead of the Cowboys making changes to things that would actively result in real changes in this franchise, we continue down the same bumpy road of altering a few names here and there. The Jones family front office seemed to actively make this team worse last spring (getting rid of Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, and Randy Gregory were all the choices of this front office) without any real case for improvement other than the draft and development game.

Will it work? It certainly can. But, there are many ominous signs those three moves may not move the needle in March too much. You still have the wiggle room of the “long offseason” and I can always rationalize them in real-time with: “Maybe they have something else planned that we didn’t know.”

Sturm: My Cowboys’ 53-man roster projection — plenty of work to be done before Tampa Bay

via @TheAthletic

— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) August 28, 2022

In March, that possibility exists. Maybe they planned on replacing those three players with cheaper replicas that at least can do the job. If they pull that off, maybe even with excess cap room, we might see some very shrewd work done.


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It is the end of August. They did not have plans to add a veteran wide receiver with Cooper’s resume. Heck, the Cowboys barely added a veteran wide receiver at all and the one they did was hurt in the first week of camp and will be out for a bit. We enter Week 1 with a collection of wild guesses playing in his important spot. Say what you want about Cooper — there is plenty of coping going on in the fan base about why he just had to go — but he got the opponent’s attention. He had them on alert at all times. His replacement? Jalen Tolbert will have a chance to get their attention, too, but it certainly will default to “let’s see if the rookie has ever been pressed like this at South Alabama?”

Remember, that move was purely elective as the salary-cap crunch was fictional. Cooper could have stayed in 2022, but Dallas talked itself into the fact that he had to go.

We also see that the plan on the offensive line was not to add anywhere but through the draft. It is a defendable position if you are trying to make smart and frugal moves to benefit the rest of the squad. But, unless I missed an opportunistic chance to make this team better with an expenditure elsewhere, it seems the Cowboys released their starting right tackle who is no worse than “top half of the league at RT” to move on to a young player because the older one was less cooperative. There is little defense for claiming Terence Steele is a better player than Collins, but he is definitely cheaper and probably less of a headache. Does that matter?

And the Gregory thing has been talked about again and again. If Dallas wasn’t comfortable with the contract clause in his deal and Denver was, well, then I suppose we will see Gregory in orange on the first Monday night of the season and believe the Cowboys made the right moves. But, the company line has been that this allowed the Cowboys to keep Dorance Armstrong and sign Dante Fowler. That feels disingenuous knowing Dallas has all sorts of cap room right now. If you wanted to keep Armstrong and Gregory, then do it. But, please don’t do that very rude thing on our leg and tell us it is raining.

The Cowboys allowed three key veterans in key spots to walk out that door and in all three cases, they were not replaced. That action might allow for some rationalizing until you realize that we are 12 days from playing Tampa Bay on opening night and they are worse off at all three spots. You might say: But, Bob, what about Jalen Tolbert? That is a replacement! I will shoot back that you still needed Tolbert on draft day to play your fourth WR as a rookie because you also let that guy go sign in Miami. Fine. Nobody disputes that is what smart teams do, but you are entering the season with one of your top four receivers back and have replaced that entire group with a third-round pick and a bunch of developmental ideas?


The team you are playing has added Julio Jones and Kyle Rudolph to their options downfield. You may recall they already have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin is mending on schedule, too.

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The offensive line situation looks critical, too. Collins will visit Dallas in Week 2 with his new team — you know, the one that won the AFC last January — as part of its new offensive line. The Bengals went to the Super Bowl and immediately got to work on how their OL wasn’t nearly good enough. Dallas had its offensive line implode in January and the solution appeared to be to draft a few projects who can be molded into something special soon enough. Well, when Connor McGovern looks up and sees Vita Vea, we might wonder what they were thinking. Sure, Collins is just one move and if he was annoying, then replace him. Instead, they move Steele in — which might work — and hope everyone else stays healthy. Tyron Smith did not get to Week 1 before his 2022 likely ended, and now we see that left tackle, left guard and right tackle are already likely to be downgraded from 2021.

As for Gregory, I realize this one will get the most pushback of the three, but I also know that all three are in people’s rearview mirror and have been rationalized enough that the most likely comment is: Why can’t you just let it go, Bob? That’s fine, but Gregory was the edge that Dallas had last year that most troubled tackles — this side of Micah Parsons — so he was a priority keeper as we entered the offseason. I did not just start saying this — I have said this since his contract became a talking point a while back. Not only did the Cowboys not keep him, they also replaced him with two downgrades in the veteran signings of Armstrong and Fowler. I have great hopes for Sam Williams, but that cannot be the plan right away. He will probably be brought on slowly. Another key spot where they are taking an active step back in the present tense.

In summary, the Cowboys took three critical spots on the field — playmaking X receiver, right tackle, edge rusher — and actively made each worse in the short term. The left tackle has dropped again, too. Not an elective move, but certainly a move that sadly cannot be called a massive surprise. As we enter the season, we wonder why Dallas seems to be running in place.

The rivals are not. They seem to be looking at the Rams and getting more aggressive in finishing their rosters because there is no time like the present.

The Philadelphia Eagles have added playmaker AJ Brown, pass rusher Haason Reddick, linebacker Kyzir White, depth WR Zach Pascal, DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (in a trade Tuesday) and starting corner James Bradberry all through trades and free agency. Then, they stocked their draft with Day 1 starters and contributors in the mammoth Jordan Davis and dynamic Nakobe Dean on defense and added Cam Jurgens to a rebuilt offensive line. The Eagles are one team that can challenge Dallas to win the NFC East and have largely upgraded their roster. They sniffed an opportunity where Dallas seemed content to subtract and they want to see if they can take this division. Vegas seems to think they can. That is just one rival, but the most present danger to the Cowboys winning the East. This may still be about Dallas having a better QB, but the margins are slim even in this poor division.

The Cowboys lost three key players and the replacement solution has fallen short (1)

Tyler Smith (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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I write all of this today because I know in a few weeks we will have moved on to why Dallas needs to fire its head coach and why Prescott may never be good enough to win the big one. I know — as does the Jones family — that once the games begin, we will start blaming the guys on the field for not measuring up well enough. We will blame the OL coach if Tyler Smith isn’t ready to play left tackle in the NFL after he had not really mastered it at Tulsa. They said he needed developmental time and then gave him about 30 minutes to develop.


This was an odd offseason and there is no other way to say it. The Cowboys seemed almost resigned to the idea that this roster is what it is. They show faith in Mike McCarthy publicly, but then weaken his hand and know the rest will take care of itself when the fans see the results. They understand their coach is on a hot seat, so they virtually helped increase it.

Dallas added almost nothing outside of the draft to a roster that seemed reasonably close last year. They subtracted key pieces and were reluctant to lock up anyone else (see: Dalton Schultz). I have not said this before today, but now that we are down to 53, it probably needs to be said. We have given them plenty of time.

This front office has not acted like it thinks this is the year. It sort of looks like Dallas is allowing some cumbersome contracts to expire and looking to 2023. The Cowboys know a coaching change is looming if they don’t win big and then they didn’t appear to chase that at all. They know that it will likely be with either head coach Dan Quinn or Sean Payton or something new. They also know that they can sell change to you when that time comes.

It is a very odd posture this year. I have done this long enough to know that they might be right in handing jobs to so many unproven players. We must allow that possibility as they sit at 0-0. There is a chance they get this right with a move toward addition by subtraction. But, I have also done this long enough to know that the odds do not support their moves. When they don’t work and the losses start coming, the coach and the QB will be blamed for the next several months, even though neither probably had a vote on this offseason strategy and are confused by it.

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We aren’t. We have followed this franchise long enough to know better.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things the Cowboys will never change.

(Top photo of Mike McCarthy: Kirby Lee / USA Today)


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