National Football League
Cowboys' offseason grade: Where is all the help for Dak Prescott?
National Football League

Cowboys' offseason grade: Where is all the help for Dak Prescott?

Published Jul. 9, 2024 1:20 p.m. ET

What once was a boast and full of promise is now nothing but a sad meme. Almost no one can use the phrase "all in" in reference to the Dallas Cowboys without a laugh track, or at least a deep sigh.

That's what Jerry Jones gets from following up his "all in" promise with an offseason of startling inaction. He had a team with several holes, then several new ones were created, and almost all of them were left unfilled.

What that means for the upcoming season is anybody's guess, especially since part of their offseason of inaction has included a lack of contract extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver CeeDee Lamb, linebacker Micah Parsons and even coach Mike McCarthy. The core of their franchise is in limbo.

And they really didn't bring in much help.


That could be an especially big problem for Prescott who, more than ever before, might need to carry this team if they're going to keep up with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, make a run at the playoffs, and somehow keep alive their Super Bowl dreams. The cast around him was definitely not upgraded. In some ways, it's even gotten worse.

Here's a look at what the Cowboys did and did not do over the last five months:

What they did

Well, they … ummmm … they … well, they did a lot of waving goodbye as free agents left the building. That's really not what this category is about, though.

Probably their biggest offseason move was signing running back Ezekiel Elliott, the long-time Cowboy who left a year ago when they decided to ride with an injured Tony Pollard instead. When Pollard joined the mass exodus from Dallas in March, the Cowboys by-passed the star-studded running back market and brought back Elliott, who'll be 29 by the time training camp starts.

They also signed 32-year-old linebacker Eric Kendricks. He was an All-Pro once, albeit five years ago.

And they drafted a couple of offensive linemen who could really help them this season — left tackle Tyler Guyton (first round) and center Cooper Beebe (third). Of course, that's because they chose not to re-sign left tackle Tyron Smith (who went to the Jets) and center Tyler Biadasz (Washington), so that might not be much of an improvement there.

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What they didn't do

Where to begin … First, they didn't spend money to bring back key players like Pollard, Smith, Biadasz, defensive ends Dorrance Armstrong and Dante Fowler, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. They also didn't spend money on Prescott or Lamb, who are notably entering the final year of their contracts.

They didn't get Prescott help in any way. Instead of replacing the linemen they lost, they ignored the veteran market and decided to trust two rookies. They didn't get him a third receiver to help take some of the pressure off Lamb. They also did not dip into a rich running back market filled with players like Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, D'Andre Swift, Austin Ekeler and so much more. Instead, they brought back Elliott, who showed signs last year (when he rushed for 642 yards in New England) that he might be almost done.

Even their draft was filled with players who might help in the future, but aren't likely to contribute a ton right now. And help right now is what they need. At least that's what "all in" seemed to imply.

Biggest addition

There's not much to choose from here, but it's got to be Elliott. They need a strong running game and theoretically, he's going to be the one to provide it, even though he had a career-low 3.5 yards per carry last season. He did have 51 catches for 313 yards, so maybe he could help in the passing game.

But really, it seems like the Cowboys are trying to catch lightning in a bottle, even though the lightning might have already fizzled out.

Biggest loss

There's a good case to be made that it's Pollard, who had 1,005 rushing yards and 55 catches for 311 yards last season. But the truth is it's probably Tyron Smith, because he's now being replaced by a rookie and the offensive line is going to be so important to this team. Elliott no longer has the ability to make people miss the way he used to, which means the line will have to create holes for him. And Prescott doesn't have a wide array of weapons, which means he's going to need time in the pocket to figure things out.

Guyton, their first-rounder out of Oklahoma, is going to have to step up and do that right away. The Cowboys can't afford much of a learning curve from the guy protecting Prescott's blind side.

The Jets, by the way, signed Smith to a two-year, $6.5 million contract. Yeah, he's 34 and the Cowboys were right to be concerned about his long-term future. But again, if they're going to be "all in" their veteran left tackle had to be worth at least that.

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Biggest question heading into camp

Is there enough help around Dak Prescott?

If Prescott struggles, the Cowboys are in trouble. The defense probably will be good enough in most games, but the Cowboys are going to have to score. And they can't count on their Elliott-led running game to power their offense. It's going to be powered by Prescott's arm.

The Prescott-Lamb duo is deadly. And there were certainly signs last season that Brandin Cooks can be a helpful No. 2. But what else do they really have? Jake Ferguson (71-761-5) is a solid tight end, but not a dynamic one. And there will be a wide-open competition for the third- and fourth-receiver spots among a very unproven group.

And then there's the line, once a strength, which lost two of its key components and is undoubtedly getting older. If that doesn't hold up, then forget everything else, because this season will turn into a disaster.

Offseason grade: D

You can't yell "All in!" and then sit out free agency and draft players for the future, while refusing to sign your best players to long-term deals. That just signals that you either don't know what "all in" means or you have your own secret definition.

Regardless, offseason grades are based on this simple question: Did the team get better? And the answer here is clearly, no. There isn't one area where the Cowboys got better since last season ended, and several where they probably got worse. The only thing keeping them from getting an "F" is that they didn't make any destructive trades, and their draft was generally well-regarded.

That's not going to help them win games now, though, which is what Jerry Jones sure seemed to indicate was what this offseason would be all about.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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