The Cowboys’ 2020 season was disappointing, no matter how anyone looks at it. Marred by injuries Dallas recorded just six wins, their lowest total since adding the dynamic duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott in the 2016 NFL draft.
The good news for Cowboys fans is that the club is set up quite well to improve in the upcoming 2021 season, at least that according to Pro Football Focus. PFF ranked his six teams most likely to improve upon their 2020 results, and Dallas landed at third on the list, while also having the simplest path to said improvement.
Here is PFF’s offseason to-do list for the Cowboys:
Re-sign Dak Prescott
Re-sign Aldon Smith
Draft cornerback Caleb Farley with pick No. 10
The first bullet, extending Prescott, is by far the biggest storyline of the Cowboys offseason. Author Anthony Treash elaborated on his first, and most crucial, step towards improvement for Dallas, saying the following.
“Dallas is on here solely because of the impact of Dak Prescott. Despite playing in only five games in 2020, Prescott generated more WAR than the rest of the Cowboys quarterbacks combined. And he was the third-most valuable quarterback in the league in 2019, according to PFF WAR. Prescott’s deep passing has been rolling with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore the last couple of years. He ranks sixth in passing grade and first in adjusted completion percentage on 20-plus yard throws since 2019. Prescott deserves to be paid, and his return makes the Cowboys the clear-cut favorites to win the 2021 NFC East title.”
Prescott cemented himself as one of the league’s top quarterbacks in his limited action. With every team NFC East still surrounded by major questions, it’s easy to see why Treash believes Prescott’s return alone makes Dallas the team to beat in the division.
Smith was impressive this past season when factoring in he hadn’t played professional football in over four seasons.
“After the dust settles on Prescott’s contract, there’s not going to be much Dallas can do in free agency. It would be wise to bring back edge rusher Aldon Smith. After a four-year hiatus, Smith returned to the NFL field and played extremely well given the circumstances with a 70.0 pass-rush grade (34th at the position) and 16% win rate (24th).”
Treash is right, upon re-signing Prescott, Dallas will have to be extremely salary cap conscious with their remaining transactions. If the Cowboys can return a skilled pass-rusher and versatile defensive lineman like Smith on a deal that doesn’t break the bank then that would be a win.
With improvement being the theme of the article, Smith could easily be one of the most improved players in the league next year. Smith had the success he did this year without a real offseason at all, and as mentioned earlier missing the previous handful of seasons. Now, Smith would have a full season under his belt, and a somewhat-usual offseason to attempt to get back into his All-Pro form.
He showed it early, but a knee injury limited his action down the stretch.
The Cowboys’ current cornerback situation is dire. Right now, the team has two cornerbacks to feel comfortable in rolling out in Week 1. The NFL draft is the most likely way they will attempt to augment the position, and it is imperative Dallas hit on the selection.
Treash recognized this need, and that’s why the third step of improvement for Dallas would be to select PFF’s top-rated cornerback, Caleb Farley, with their first-round pick.
“As for the draft, Dallas is in a great spot to secure PFF’s CB1, Caleb Farley. He has all the physical tools one could want in an outside corner — with his trump card arguably being his blazing speed — and displayed a true lockdown season in his final year at the collegiate level. Before opting out of the 2020 season, Farley allowed one or fewer catches in seven of his 11 starts in 2019 while intercepting four passes and breaking up nine, leading to a 26.8 passer rating allowed and 90.5 coverage grade.”
Whether it’s Virginia Tech’s Farley, or Alabama’s Patrick Surtain, experts and fans alike would be shocked if the Cowboys didn’t heavily consider cornerback at pick No. 10.
Obviously, the path to improvement for the Cowboys isn’t just as simple as these three transactions, but the Cowboys certainly have a talented roster, and a foundation that makes them a top bounce-back candidate for the 2021 season, if they can sure up just a few holes.