In light of Chidobe Awuzie's comments about how a change is scenery impacted him this last season in Cincinnati, is it safe to conclude that this could be one of the top reasons why we have never made a deep run into the playoffs? Are the distractions of being a Dallas Cowboys impeding our players to the point we just can't focus on football enough to be a contending team? – ROBERT WARD / SCRANTON, PA
David: I've thought about that a lot over the years. Even before I saw Chido's comments, I think I agree with his overall sentiment. The lights are bright here, and every year the Cowboys go without reaching a Super Bowl only puts more focus on them when they do have success. I do think the team's popularity can work against them at times. But I also don't see that changing. The Cowboys have done a pretty good job of finding players with the right kind of temperament to succeed in this environment. Dak Prescott and Micah Parsons come to mind. So that would probably be my advice – keep looking for players who can thrive under the lights, because I don't think they're going away any time soon.
Rob: Yeah, I agree it's a huge spotlight that probably requires a little extra focus and toughness – and I think the current team has plenty of guys who can handle that. It's impossible to say there's one specific reason why the Cowboys haven't won big for this long. Are there distractions? Of course. For the past 15 years I've been here, every time the team gets on a little streak, the outside world starts drawing comparisons to the great '90s teams because everyone's ready to see that type of run again. The Cowboys also get everybody's best shot, every week, because they're "America's Team." That's a fact. I do think through the frustration of the playoff loss to San Francisco, we've lost a little perspective here. That game was widely considered a toss-up, and at least five of the seven teams in the NFC playoffs had a legit shot at the Super Bowl. It's more about how they lost – the 14 penalties, the slow start, and the offense's decline in production after the bye – that makes this so hard to stomach.
I haven't heard much about Leighton Vander Esch since the season ended. I know the team did not pick up his fifth-year option, but do you see him in their future plans at all? He is certainly still a solid two-down defender. – H. MELVIN / OCEAN CITY, NJ
David: There's not much to say right now. We're still in that weird limbo before the Super Bowl, when players are taking a break and front offices are formulating their plans for the spring. One way or another, linebacker needs to be addressed. I honestly wonder if Leighton might prefer a change of scenery, especially with Micah Parsons taking over as the centerpiece of this linebacker group. If the price is right, I'd be down to bring him back. But I also think the draft is a wonderful way to replenish the depth at such a physical position.
Rob: I wouldn't rule out Vander Esch returning. Linebacker depth is a big question mark at the moment because Jabril Cox will be coming back from a knee injury and Keanu Neal is set to be a free agent, too. Like a lot of guys, it'll probably depend on what's out there for Vander Esch and what the Cowboys can fit under the salary cap.