As we get ready for the final game of the NFL season this Sunday, there still seems to be plenty of topics that affect the Cowboys, particularly the quarterback position.
So many teams around the league have issues at QB and let's find out how it trickles down to the Dak Prescott situation.
That plus four others are the headliners of this week's 5 Bucks.
The impact of the NFL's quarterback carousel on Dak.
The Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade has kicked off an offseason that could see quarterbacks changing locations like a game of musical chairs. The impending freeze has fueled speculation that the Cowboys should entertain the possibility of moving on from Dak Prescott based on the cost of applying a second franchise tag or what he could net in return as part of a sign and trade with a desperate team.
While I understand the fantasy football GM in all of us makes the thought of wheeling and dealing No.4 seem like a good idea but it's hard to find a franchise quarterback, particularly one with top 5 potential. I know that point will make the Dak haters cringe but the Cowboys' QB1 is in the discussion with Deshaun Watson and Co. based on his production and performance through five seasons.
The comparison to Watson is important to note due to his contract (four-year, $160 million max) and estimated trade value (multiple first-round picks plus additional picks or players). If Watson is worth that much with similar performance metrics, Prescott should be worth his weight in gold to the Cowboys. He has outplayed the quarterbacks in the 2016 draft class (see Goff and Carson Wentz) and his sizzling start to 2020 season (68% completion rate, 371.2 pass YPG, 9-4 TD-INT ratio) continues a trend in which he has averaged 300-plus pass yards since 2019.
Although the Cowboys sport a sub-.500 mark (10-11) during that span, it is hard to knock Prescott for his work. He is an ascending player at the most important position in the game and the Cowboys shouldn't move on from an elite quarterback for a cheaper option or a bevy of pics that might not bring a comparable player in return.
What is Jaylon Smith's role?
The Cowboys' leading tackler is a polarizing figure based on his inconsistent game but he could play a major role in Dan Quinn's scheme. The one-time Pro Bowler has played multiple positions but he is at his best when playing in the middle. Smith's high IQ, strong communication ability, and skills make him a better fit at MIKE in the Cowboys' revamped scheme.
As the designated monster in the middle, he only needs to control the tackle-to-tackle box as a run defender and operate between the hashes, particularly in a spot drop defense with some pattern-match principles. Smith thrived in this role in 2018 in a similar scheme employed by Kris Richard/Marinelli, and a reprisal could bring out the best in the veteran.
That said, Smith must prove that he wants to play at an all-star level and exhibit it in his play and preparation. From his energy, effort and physicality to his impact production, the veteran linebacker needs to perform at a high level for the Cowboys' defense to improve. Quinn will put him in a position to succeed as a middle linebacker but Smith has to take advantage of his opportunities or take a seat on the bench.
Jimmy Johnson's advice.
Mike McCarthy would be wise to heed the two-time Super Bowl winner's words when he contemplates how to fix the Cowboys in 2021. Johnson joined USA Today's virtual radio row and offered up an interesting nugget on why Dallas is a tough place to coach:
"It's a really unique to coach and to work. There are so many accolades that go their way — and unearned. Troy Aikman and I talked about it. It's such a tough place because a lot of those players walk around like they've got Super Bowl rings on because that's the way the public and throughout the country, they are treated. They're treated like 'hey, you just won the Super Bowl.' But in reality, they didn't even make the playoffs. So the coach has got to be a hardline, no-nonsense type of guy and sometimes he's got to combat that. He's got to bring them down to earth and say 'hey, you haven't done anything yet. You've got to win on the field before you start getting all these perks."
After posting a 6-10 mark during his debut season, McCarthy should have a better feel for his team and the challenge of coaching America's Team. The "Star" represents glitz and glamour but the Cowboys' Super Bowl teams were blue-collar types that played a physical brand of football that never goes out of style. Although Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Aikman garnered the headlines as gold jacket performers, the Cowboys won behind an imposing offensive line and a suffocating defense. Moreover, they won with a gritty style that enabled them to dominate the NFC as heavyweight contenders.
The current version of the Cowboys certainly has star power but they need to become a grittier squad and embrace the dirty work needed to become a champion. From the hustle plays to the increase in physicality and toughness, McCarthy must get the 2021 version of the Cowboys to embrace the grind to maximize the team's potential. Johnson wrote the book on how to build a champion in Dallas three decades ago. It is time for McCarthy to read it and apply the lessons.
War Room debate: The Tyron Smith dilemma.
The Cowboys will have a chance to grab a blue-chip player with the No.10 overall selection. If the team picks a player based on need, the selection will likely fill a void on the defensive side of the ball at cornerback, defensive tackle, or edge rusher. Finding A-level players at those positions are certainly important following the defense's struggles in 2020 but it might be time for the team to find a franchise tackle to eventually replace Tyron Smith on the edges.
Although Smith is still earning accolades for his work as a blocker, he is more myth than magic as a player. He has missed at least three games in each of the past five seasons. And his play has steadily declined on the edges with his reputation exceeding his performance in the trenches. Smith is unable to consistently dominate five-star pass rushers at this stage of his career and his penchant for penalties (seven or more in each of the past five seasons) suggest his agility, footwork and technical skills are in decline.
With that in mind, the Cowboys should consider fortifying the strength of their team (offense) by targeting a franchise-caliber tackle with their first selection. The 2021 class is loaded at the position with at least five offensive tackle prospects carrying first-round grades (Oregon's Penei Sewell, Northwestern's Rashawn Slater, USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker, Virginia Tech's Christian Darrishaw, and Michigan's Jalen Mayfield).
The "plug and play" potential of each prospect could enable the Cowboys to throw the rookie into the starting lineup if Smith is unavailable or the rookie could serve as an apprentice as a first-year player behind the perennial Pro Bowler (or La'el Collins).
The thought of adding another offensive puzzle piece will make some observers scream but the Cowboys' explosive offense could be their best defense in the long run. Protecting Prescott and controlling the trenches is key to the unit's success, and the addition of a blue-chip edge blocker gives them a chance in 2021 and beyond.
Who returns at cornerback?
The Cowboys could see a lot of turnover in the defensive backfield with Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdain Lewis, and C.J. Goodwin eligible to test the free agent market. The mass exodus could leave the Cowboys short-handed at the position even if the team adds a young cornerback early in the draft.
After studying the All-22 film, the debate likely comes down to a choice between Awuzie and Lewis as a third or fourth-corner candidate. While Awuzie is a better fit from a stylistic standpoint, the former second-round pick hasn't played up to expectations since he arrived from Colorado. He had his fair share of struggles on the perimeter and his flaws were on full display throughout 2020 whenever he was healthy and available to suit up.
Lewis is an ideal candidate to remain as a sub-defender due to his competitiveness and skills as a utility player. Although his complete rate allowed (67.5%, 52 receptions on 77 targets) falls below the line, he is routinely in a position to make a play on the ball in coverage. In addition, Lewis' scrappiness as a slot defender could serve him well as an experienced substitute off the bench.
With the Cowboys expected to roll with Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and possibly a rookie draft pick in the starting rotation, Lewis' experience, versatility, and overall toughness could give him the nod when the coaching staff and scouts make personnel decisions in the upcoming weeks.