Is This Mike McCarthy's Most Experienced Team?


Technology has its limits, even for the most high-profile coaching position in sports.

Mike McCarthy's first team address as Cowboys head coach wasn't in the massive team meeting room at The Star in Frisco. Consistent with the entire offseason program, it was done virtually through video conferencing. McCarthy spoke into a camera, and unlike past team meetings he's been a part of the last 30 years, he wasn't able to see every player on the roster at once.

"I don't have the setup where I can get 90 boxes," he said recently via conference call. "It was different, no doubt."

That is merely a glimpse into the Cowboys' (and the entire league's) current landscape as the U.S. continues battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams conducted virtual offseason programs, consisting of remote training and classroom-style instruction, for the entire spring period. Training camp, tentatively scheduled for late July around the league, is the first time that players and coaches will reconvene.

These logistical challenges exist for every NFL franchise right now, particularly teams like the Cowboys with new coaching staffs communicating a large volume of schematic material.

But there's one advantage McCarthy might have as he starts this job under unprecedented circumstances.

"I am excited because this is probably going to be the most experienced team that I've coached," he said. "So, we'll rely on that. I think if we were going to push to one side or the other, we'd definitely push on the side of the volume because of our veteran experience."

McCarthy's most experienced group ever? That might sound like a surprise given all the Packers playoff teams he coached over the years, and his new Cowboys team going decidedly younger at key positions the last few years.

But, if you look at the Cowboys' core veterans – the 50-plus returning players who have spent time on the active roster, plus their unrestricted free agent signings from the spring – the average age is 26.7 years old. The rookies who will make the team – first-round pick CeeDee Lamb and others – will bring down that average a little. But that number is above or right in line with all McCarthy's Packers teams from 2006-18, according to Pro Football Reference.

McCarthy's Super Bowl team in 2010? The average age was 26.3. The defending champion Packers team in 2011, fresh off a league lockout? 25.9.

That 2011 Packers team had most advantageous experience of all: championship mettle. This year's Cowboys team, despite several stars hovering above or below age 25, have some playoff experience in the Dak-Zeke era themselves.

There are only a dozen projected starting NFL quarterbacks with more career starts than the 26-year-old Prescott: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Matt Stafford, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton. That's valuable for an incoming head coach.

Plus, several of the Cowboys' offseason signings are seasoned veterans. Defensive linemen Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Aldon Smith will be at least 30 when the season starts. Backup quarterback Andy Dalton is 32. So is new kicker Greg Zuerlein.

And there's this: McCarthy himself is a far more experienced coach than he was when he took the Packers job 14 years ago.

"This challenge has clearly made everyone, especially myself, take a step back. Don't react as fast as you may have in normal times," he said. "I think you've really got to trust your instincts, the awareness and your experience in this particular time as far as how we install and initiate the development and growth of our program. We still have to do things in a progression. I feel like we've done that.

"You've got to trust your instincts, awareness and experience during this time. That's what I've been relying on."