FRISCO, Texas – It's that strange time of year.
As the Cowboys examine the end of their 2021 season, it comes with the sad caveat that, however they might run things back in 2022, this will be the last time this particular team is together. In a league with this much roster turnover, they're guaranteed to approach the coming year with a different group.
"In all my years I don't know that I've had a better chance or a better full team than this," Dak Prescott said Sunday night. "It's hard to accept knowing every year that a team's not going to be the same, some of those guys won't be back. It's just hard for me to accept right now."
Fittingly, the Cowboys head into 2022 with 22 players slated for free agency – some of those more noteworthy than others. Once they've got their coaching situation sorted, they can begin the process of determining their plans for their spring. There are marquee free agents, such as Randy Gregory and Dalton Schultz. There are key role players – perhaps none more important than Bryan Anger, who was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season as the team's punter.
"This is the funnest year I've had, as a team," Anger said Sunday. "It sucks to end."
Anger arrived in Dallas after nine seasons in places like Jacksonville, Tampa and Houston. Other members of this Cowboys' roster have never played anywhere else. The Cowboys' 2018 draft class is about to hit free agency, virtually as a group – from Leighton Vander Esch and Connor Williams to Michael Gallup, Dorance Armstrong Schultz and Cedrick Wilson.
With Gallup sidelined by injury for much of the season, Wilson blew up to the tune of 45 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns. And while Wilson made his preference clear, he acknowledged that these sorts of things aren't up to him entirely.
"I love Dallas. It's the only home I've ever had," he said. "If we can get it back to be here, that's great, but if not, I just have to keep performing."
Carlos Watkins, another veteran, framed it in terms that fans can assuredly relate to.
"I really don't know. I'm just going to shut it down and get over the depressed stage right now," Watkins said. "It's tough. I really didn't want it to end this way, but it's part of the game."
There will be other aspects to consider. The Cowboys have made business decisions regarding players who are still under contract numerous times over the years, and that will once again be something to watch as they wrestle with the realities of the salary cap.
Those types of decisions are still weeks out in front, though it is interesting to note that Amari Cooper was asked whether he thought he'd remain with the team during his postgame press conference.
"I don't make those decisions, I honestly don't know. But hopefully," he said.
It's a pretty common refrain. They're all questions that'll be answered – but all in due time. In the meantime, the uncertainty of what's to come can only linger alongside the disappointment of what just happened.