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Offseason | 2023

Spagnola: What Will These Changing Times Bring


FRISCO, Texas – We hear sometimes change is good.

Well, we're about to find out because things, they are a changin' around these Cowboys for sure.

Why they finally officially reconstructed their coaching staff, having moved on from eight assistants, including the offensive coordinator and from just who will be calling those plays.

They have brought in seven new assistants and given more responsibility to two others already on the staff.

They likely are moving on from an offensive system that's been in place since 2007. That's over a 16-season span, encompassing three offensive coordinators – Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Kellen Moore.

As quarterback Dak Prescott says, he's expecting the offense to change from 20 to 30 percent. But let's remember, offense rarely has been the Cowboys problem as long as Tony Romo and Dak Prescott have been healthy these past 16 seasons, or since Garrett arrived in 2007 and head coach Mike McCarthy in 2020. Why they have been ranked Top11 nine times and finished Top 5 five times, including No. 1 in two of the past four years.

And even potent this 2022 season despite finishing 11th, but mostly thanks to the first game of the season and the last game of the season when only scoring three points in the loss to Tampa Bay and just six points in the loss to Washington, while also factoring in an injured Dak missing five games.

And let's remember the Cowboys did have that nine-game stretch with Dak back in the saddle averaging 36 points a game, losing two games in overtime when still scoring 28 and 34 points. They also had a seven-game stretch converting at least 50 percent of their third down opportunities and their 27.5 points a game this season finished fourth in the NFL, behind just Kansas City (29.2), Buffalo (28.4) and Philadelphia (28.1).

Plus, this team hung 31 on Tampa Bay in that first-round playoff win. Unfortunately, though, the 12-point output in the second round 19-12 loss to San Francisco overshadowed all of this.

Even former Cowboys tight end Jason Witten at his Thursday night Sixth Annual Collegiate Man of the Year Celebration, after saying, "I thought they had a great year . . . I was disappointed they came up short . . . but there was a lot to like about this team," acknowledged these changes in the air.

"There are some changes there, right now, offensive coordinator," Witten said. "That's a lot really because that system has been in place since '07 and so people often don't talk about that – 16 years of the same system. So, if that changes or doesn't change, what does that look like, you know.

"There has been a lot of top offenses in that system through (three) coordinators."

The grass must stay green on the other side, but most importantly grow greener in the playoffs, where over the 11 playoff games during those 16 seasons in that same offensive system averaging just 21.45 points a game while going 4-7, the biggest consternation over that period and for sure the impetus for these now changing times.

Plus, this roster will look significantly different in 2023 when considering the Cowboys currently have 19 unrestricted free agents and two restricted while dealing with already highly shrinking salary cap space. No way all those guys will be back for the coming season. Why 10 of those 21 are considered starters and market value will determine just how many of the 21 they can bring back from a team having gone 12-5 in each the past two seasons. Even half would be considered an accomplishment.

Well, maybe Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is thinking coach 'em up, and with this draft and develop roster building philosophy better draft well again and keep developing.

That then falls on the coaching staff. So the major change will be on offense, with McCarthy saying he will take over the play calling, somewhat suggesting putting in place more of his offense with an assist from new O.C. Brian Shottenheimer, a 26-year veteran NFL assistant having served the Cowboys in 2022 as an "analyst," and why McCarthy said in an earlier statement, "I am very happy to have Brian take on this key role with our team. He has been an important part of our staff already and has a great grasp of where we are and where we want to go."

So, this becomes Dak's third offensive coordinator in his eighth year. Not only that, the Cowboys also have decided to change out offensive line coach Joe Philbin for Mike Solari. Change out running backs coach from Skip Peete to promoting assistant O-Line coach Jeff Blasko to run-game coordinator/running backs coach. Move on from QB coach Doug Nussmeier (reportedly following Moore to the Chargers) to promoting offensive assistant Scott Tolzien into that position. They also promoted offensive quality control coach Chase Haslett to assistant tight ends coach.

Defensively, really the only big changes are letting go senior defensive assistant George Edwards, who had taken over the linebackers position these past two seasons, and now turning that job back over to Scott McCurley, and replacing assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett with Shariff Floyd, who had worked with the Cowboys during training camp this past summer.

Good thing about Dan Quinn returning as defensive coordinator, he can lend assistance on the defensive line and at linebacker, too.

So, it appears with the exceptions of bringing back Solari (68) – had coached with the Cowboys for Tom Landry back in 1987-88) – and promoting Shottenheimer (49), the Cowboys have grown younger on this coaching staff and apparently from an economic standpoint less expensive while shedding longtime veteran assistants like Edwards, Peete, Philbin and Lett.

In doing so they have added new voices and given bigger voices to a few others already on staff.

Often times this infusion of new blood is a good thing, with coaches and players. Can't grow stale in this NFL. Status quo is no bueno.

But for sure, regression from 12-5 and having produced one of the top offenses in the NFL in 2022 is not an option. Nor from at least advancing into the second round of the playoffs.

Onward and upward must be the battle carry, these ever-changing times providing no quarter.

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