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Offseason | 2024

Mick Shots: Here's A Sobering Outlook For 2024

Mick Shots- Here’s A Sobering Outlook For 2024-hero

FRISCO, Texas – Let's not rush into 2024 with these Dallas Cowboys. The NFL Conference Championships are still to be played this Sunday, then an off week before Super Bowl LVIII Feb. 11, 2024.

So, we have beaucoup topics to address between now and the start of the NFL league year on March 13. And there is a lot to address, starting with the Cowboys dealing with Dak Prescott's contract, their 16 unrestricted free agents, finalizing this season's coaching staff that is expected to take some time and upgrading several position groups, like linebacker for sure, cornerback, running back and the offensive line.

All that, not to mention analyzing the East-West Shrine Bowl being played here at The Star on Feb. 1, then the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, the start to free agency and the NFL Draft.

Thought today we would start with analyzing the Cowboys 2024 list of opponents, and this might cause you, oh, and them, too, to grimace while sucking air through teeth. This the penalty of playing well enough to win the NFC East, but now meaning having to play that first-place schedule with nothing to show for in the playoffs after their regular season success.

As we know in this NFL socialized system, the weak shall inherit, and the Cowboys are going to pay dearly for the 12-5 record in 2023. You'll see.

Of course, the Cowboys will play six of the 17 games against their NFC East opponents, two apiece against all three. Then in the pre-prepared NFL scheduling rotation, the Cowboys will play all the teams from the NFC South and the AFC North, as will Philly, Washington and the Giants.

Now the hard part, thanks to finishing first in the NFC East. That means the Cowboys then must play the first-place teams from the other two NFC divisions and the 17th game against the first-place team from the AFC South. How sweet, huh.

This means the Cowboys will play 11 of 17 games against teams finishing the 2023 season with winning records. This means the Cowboys will play nine games against teams qualifying for the 2023 NFL playoffs, the Eagles (11-6) twice, Baltimore (13-4), Tampa Bay (9-8), Houston (10-7), Detroit (12-5), Cleveland (11-6), Pittsburgh (10-7) and San Francisco (12-5).

This means the Cowboys will play five of the other seven 2023 division winners, Detroit, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Houston while also meaning playing the two teams with the best conference records, San Francisco and Baltimore.

Finally, this means the Cowboys will play games against three of the four teams advancing into the NFC and AFC Conference Championship games this Sunday – Baltimore, San Francisco and Detroit.

Could also means if Kansas City doesn't get in the way, of playing the two teams advancing to the Super Bowl.

After playing those four games against NFC East opponents with losing records, Washington (4-13) and the NY Giants (6-11), the only other games being played against 2023 teams with losing records will be Atlanta (7-10) and Carolina (2-15) since the games against the other non-playoff teams are with Cincinnati (9-8) and New Orleans (9-8).

Does make you want to cringe, right. Thanks to playing two-win Carolina, four-win Washington twice, the Cowboys 2024 strength of schedule is .505, ranking them in a four-way tie for the 12th hardest schedule with the Rams, Niners and Jets, so middle of the pack.

Brother, if the Cowboys are to become the first NFC East team to win the division in consecutive seasons since the Eagles from 2001-04 and string together a fourth consecutive 12-win season, they better become a vastly improved team to survive this gauntlet.

Because here is this sobering thought. In 2023, the Cowboys finished with the third easiest strength of schedule, .446, opponents winning just 129 games. The only teams with an easier SOS were New Orleans (.433/125 wins) and Atlanta (.429/124).

Rest my case.

  • Capping It Off: Now we have become inundated with the fact Dak's 2024 cap hit will rise from the adjusted $26.8 million of 2023 to $59.45 million in need some sort of adjustment. It's complicated. But here also is what you need to know. The salary cap that inches up a few million each season will rise significantly this year thanks to the new TV contract kicking in from $224.8 million in 2023 to this year's $242.5 million, one of the largest jumps in cap history. That near estimated $20 million jump will help. So will rolling over an unspent by design $10.8 million from their 2023 cap into 2024, jumping their estimated cap space to $253.3 million according to spotrac. Also potentially creating more cap space will be lowering CeeDee Lamb's fifth year option of $17.99 million by signing him to a necessary long-term deal.
  • Tight With Fergie: We do get pre-occupied with what goes wrong when all doesn't go right, but how about the performance of second-year tight end Jake Ferguson, making those uber-concerned with losing Dalton Schultz in free agency to Houston less perplexing. Ferguson finished the season with 71 catches, second on the team to Lamb's franchise record 135 and with 761 yards receiving, also second to Lamb's franchise record 1,749. His five TDs receiving was third, Lamb with 12 and Brandin Cooks eight. And among NFL tight ends, Ferguson's 71 catches ranked 10th, 661 yards eighth and his 430 yards after catch sixth among tight ends. Not bad for a second-year player.
  • Charging With Moore: While the Chargers are looking for a new head coach, though John Harbaugh reportedly had his second interview this week and has become the Chargers new head coach this evening, former Cowboys OC Kellen Moore's name keeps popping up. First, the Chargers did give him a head coaching interview, but haven't given up on Moore remaining with the team. While still under contract, although his status on thin ice after the Chargers fired head coach Brandon Staley and reports had suggested if Harbaugh got the job he will bring his coordinators from Michigan with him, the Chargers denied the Bears permission to talk with Kellen about their OC position, the Bears then hiring Shane Waldon as their offensive coordinator. We'll see what happens to Kellen now.
  • Coordinator Worlds Turn: Still too me, part of the reason the Cowboys decided to go another year with Mike McCarthy as head coach is to continue continuity on offense, McCarthy also running the offense and calling plays, and if he's gone meaning a third consecutive offensive alteration and play-caller. Now take Philadelphia. For the second straight year the Eagles are changing coordinators, and how did that work out for them after going to the Super Bowl in 2022, then losing both coordinators to head coaching positions, OC Shane Steichen hired by the Colts as head coach and DC Jonathan Gannon taking over the Cardinals. Well, the replacements didn't fare so well, new OC Brian Johnson fired after one season and DC Sean Desai and Matt Patricia gone too after one season. If the Chargers don't keep Moore around, what about the Eagles bringing him in as their offensive coordinator? Oh, and Johnson, why he was the OC and QB coach at Mississippi State for Dak's final two seasons there with the Bulldogs.
  • Off The Wall: Oh, and isn't this a head scratcher, Green Bay fires defensive coordinator Joe Barry after he holds the Cowboys to basically 16 points with the game on the line, and then the Packers barely are beaten by San Francisco in the Divisional Round game, 24-21, the Niners scoring the winning touchdown with just more than a minute to play, and we thought going into that first round game the Packers weakness was their defense . . . Isn't this offseason a grand time for social media, as if there's not enough legit stories circulating out there, now more being created in that universe, and as if not enough by players, now player relatives getting into the act and making "news." Beware who and where you trust info these days . . . See where Dan Quinn is one of five coaches being interviewed for the second time in Seattle, so at least he's made the cut from the eight already interviewed . . . Here is why I'm skeptical of either firing or promoting a head coach out of the job, especially if you don't know already who you can hire for the replacement and could end up taking a pot luck coach, possibly not as good as what you had . . . See where still considers Brandon Aubrey a rookie, naming him the kicker on their All-Rookie team . . . Pro Football Writers of America named five Cowboys to their PFWÅ All-NFL team, Lamb, Zack Martin, Micah Parsons, DaRon Bland and Aubrey, while naming those five to its All-NFC team, along with Dak the QB and Bryan Anger the punter.

And for the last word this week, let's go back to Mike McCarthy's season wrap-up press conference, right about at the end when he was finally asked about why he thought his team was beaten so badly on both sides of the ball, especially on offense, which had been the Cowboys calling card all season long, leading the NFL scoring 509 points, but found themselves trailing 48-16 with 10:23 left in the fourth quarter.

"I think if anything we were going too fast," McCarthy began of what began as an offensive problem for nearly 3½ quarters. "That was the common message with the players. You know, I watched the game Sunday night when I got home and that's what I felt. We'd done such an excellent job in the big play production component of the game, definitely one of our strengths all year. But you know, you can't chase big plays, and there was a number of times we were chasing plays.

"And that's what bit us in the ass."

Case in point if they were chasing. Until Dak hit Michael Gallup for 42 yards late in the third quarter, the Cowboys only had four what would be classified as big plays, the longest a 22-yard hookup with Fergie early in the second quarter.

One of many reasons for that defeat.

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