The Dallas Cowboys had another disappointing end to their season after losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round. However, Rich Gannon believes the Cowboys’ acquisitions of wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore set them up to be successful in 2023.
NFL Offseason Fixer-Uppers: How Cowboys Can Make 2023 Super Bowl Run
In an ongoing offseason series, experts from The 33rd Team offer three things each team can do to improve in 2023.
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Let’s talk about the Dallas Cowboys. I was the defensive coordinator (1989-1992) there and won Super Bowl XXVII there, and we know that is what everybody talks about — getting to the Super Bowl. That’s the goal. Well, for the Cowboys, it really is the only goal. I mean, the heat is on this year for them to take a step forward.
How can they help themselves in the draft and free agency? Well, they don’t have much free agency money to spend. They have a few guys that are up for free agency. Tight end Dalton Schultz is someone they’re gonna have to decide on. He’s probably the No. 1 guy, in my opinion, because he’s a favorite target. Tony Pollard is a guy they need to look at, too.
However, there are three things I think they need to do this offseason to take that step forward.
3 Ways to Improve Cowboys
1. Figure Out Running Back
Let’s not lose sight of how Dallas’ season ended. If you look at the stats from the Divisional Round matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys went shoe to shoe with the 49ers in every category except one — interceptions. Two for Dak Prescott and zero for Brock Purdy.
What does that tell you? They have to keep taking the pressure off of Prescott. That means running the football. That means high-percentage throws, play-action passes and hitting the tight end.
No. 1 is addressing the running back. I don’t think Ezekiel Elliott is the guy. He almost got to the point at the end of the year where they were using him, and he was giving everything he had. But, they were using him on short yardage and goal line. Pollard was the guy that got you out of your chair every time he touched the football.
Hopefully, Pollard is healthy. If he is, I would move on from Elliott, and I would go draft a young running back. I really would. If there is a great free agent guy, then fine, sign him. But I would draft a running back and have Pollard and someone else as a one-two combination.
2. Address Offensive Line
It comes down to Prescott being successful back there. They had a lot of injuries this past year. Tyron Smith played just four games in 2022 after suffering a torn hamstring and avulsion fracture in his left knee during training camp.
Is it injuries or is it talent? That is what you have to decide, Cowboys.
I think they have talent. I think they just need to play up and perform a little bit better and be healthy. I think the offensive line will be fine if they can stay on the field this coming season.
3. Draft a First-Round Cornerback
The Cowboys have a lot of ammunition to move up and down the board. With that first pick, you know what I would do? I would take a cornerback. A defensive back on the opposite side of Trevon Diggs, with the way they want to run that defense, they’re going to be a pressure defense.
When you play a pressure defense, you’re going to play man-to-man coverage. That is critical to have good cornerbacks for that to happen. So I would go out and add another cornerback with my top pick.
>> READ: The 33rd Team’s Latest Mock Draft
Dave Wannstedt is a former college and NFL Head Coach for the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Panthers. He now works for Fox Sports as a studio analyst.
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How The Dallas Cowboys Replace Tyron Smith
Editor’s note: Former NFL coach Mike Zimmer gives his thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys’ injury situation following the loss of Tyron Smith.
It’s disappointing, obviously, for the Dallas Cowboys to lose Tyron Smith. Coaches go into the season anticipating all their good players are there. But coach Mike McCarthy is a good coach. They do a good job in Dallas, and he’ll find a way to be efficient offensively and to try to cover up any weakness at left tackle. They’ll try to figure out ways to overcome that.
Any time you have key players on your team that get hurt, it always makes it difficult. But, there are a lot of ways to overcome those things.
Terrance Steele plays tackle, and I thought he did a nice job last year. The Cowboys also said, if the season started today, Connor McGovern would be the left guard. So, whoever is working at left tackle will have to get in sync with McGovern.
But there are ways to overcome that. Dallas likes to run a lot of empty formations, which causes the ball to get out quickly. They can also slide the protection to the left and chip with the back. They can move the tight end from the right side to the left side if they need help over there.
I think a lot of coaches will try to get their best rushers on their worst players. I mean, that’s just part of game plans each and every week. When I was with the Vikings, we played the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs one year. We put Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter on the two guards because we felt like they were the weakest part of the offensive line.
I’ve even had guys on the sideline come over and say, “Hey, coach, let me get on the other side. I can beat this guy!” Then there will also be overload blitzes and things like that.
If you’re getting protection slid to you, you can always add the 5th rusher to get five one-on-ones or four one-on-ones and a linebacker or a safety on a back. Then you can bring some guys from the other side if you’re getting protection the other way.
I’m sure they’ll be a lot of defenses this season trying to scheme for this loss, and a lot of defenses just do what they do.
Aaron Donald, for example, if he can beat the guard, they’re probably not going to mess with him and put him out there. But there will be some outside rushers that have the opportunity, and, as I mentioned earlier, you know Dallas will confront that.
They’ll confront it by getting the ball out quickly sometimes, running play action, bringing a guard to the other side, bringing a tight end to the other side or using the back to chip—even if it’s coming across the formation.
That’s the cat and mouse game that goes on each and every week.
Where Do Dallas Cowboys Turn After Tyron Smith Injury?
How devastating to the Dallas Cowboys was losing left tackle Tyron Smith to a torn hamstring, an injury that could shelve Smith for the entire 2022 season?
“Other than losing Dak Prescott, I can’t imagine an injury that could have a greater potential impact on Dallas’ final record this year,” said Joe Banner, former NFL executive and The 33rd Team co-founder.
So where do the Cowboys go from here without their two-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle? Who’s going to replace him? Where does that player come from? And what does this mean to their chances of defending their NFC East title this season?
So many questions for Dallas to sort through in the aftermath of Thursday’s news.
Replacing Tyron Smith
The Cowboys will be eager to defend their 2021 NFC East title, and could look at the street free agent market, wait for rosters to be trimmed to 53 players next Tuesday, or seek a trade to address their lack of experienced depth along the offensive line.
“No one should kid themselves — there is no option out there that isn’t a huge drop-off from Smith,” Banner said. “I would check on (former Chiefs and Colts OT) Eric Fisher and sign him if he wants to play and is in decent shape. The best they can hope for is to mitigate the damage the loss will cause.”
With the start of the NFL season only two weeks away, The 33rd Team’s head of scouting TJ McCreight thinks Dallas might choose to look outside their own building for a replacement.
“I would think they would wait and claim the best tackle available (after the cutdown),” said McCreight. “Their pro department has been tracking the pre-season games and are ready to do this. Most cuts will start coming in after teams play their last preseason game.”
McCreight also added a few more specific possibilities, though he is somewhat skeptical of bringing in a player off the street.
“You see names like Fisher and (former Jets and Seahawks OT) Brandon Shell, but you are not sure of where those players are in regards to health and conditioning unless you have brought them into your building previously for a visit,” McCreight said. “Jordan Tucker and David Steinmetz were recently released (by the Steelers and Chiefs, respectively) and have some decent tape. But most likely, the Cowboys will give it a few days and claim a player.”
Can a Rookie Step Up?
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has not ruled out the possibility of replacing Smith with an in-house solution. Dallas drafted two tackles in the 2022 draft — Tyler Smith in the first round and Matt Waletzko in the fifth — but that’s asking a lot from a rookie to immediately step in to protect Prescott’s blind side.
“We’ve played a lot of games without Tyron, [but] not as successfully as we do with him,” Jones told ESPN’s First Take. “In the meantime, we’ve got a guy named Tyler Smith who’s come on the scene.”
Mike Tannenbaum, co-founder of The 33rd Team and former general manager of the New York Jets, considers the rookie a possible replacement, though not a perfect one. Tyler Smith has been competing for the Cowboys’ starting left guard position.
“This is a hugely consequential injury,” Tannenbaum said. “I would consider Tyler Smith, their first-round pick, possibly going out to tackle, but that is far from an ideal solution. Besides the on-field impact this injury has, it’s also going to eat up $13.5 million that won’t help them win.”
Dallas’ Road Forward
The Cowboys waived tackle La’el Collins following the conclusion of the 2021 season. Then they selected Tyler Smith and Waletzko in the draft. But, apart from 2021 fourth-round pick Josh Ball, Waletzko is one of the only true tackle options to replace Tyron Smith.
Since 2017, Ball has been the only tackle the Cowboys have drafted in the first four rounds. Dallas failed to learn from history with their great line of the past: Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Larry Allen and Erik Williams. The Cowboys let this great offensive line grow old together and took a decade to replace them with Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Fredrick, Zack Martin and Collins.
Now, for the 2022 season, only Martin remains. This, no doubt, leaves the Cowboys vulnerable.
The clock is ticking; in just over two weeks, Dallas begins its quest to repeat as division champs against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.
Cowboys LT Tyron Smith Out Indefinitely with Torn Hamstring
The Dallas Cowboys suffered a significant blow to their 2022 aspirations on Thursday when it was learned that left tackle Tyron Smith tore a hamstring and is expected to miss significant time, ESPN reported.
More specifically, according to NFL Network, Smith suffered an avulsion of the hamstring tendon while trying to block linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. The Dallas Morning News reported that Smith is expected to undergo surgery to repair the hamstring on Friday.
Reports Wednesday after Smith left the practice field were focused around his left knee, and an initial review indicated the ACL was still intact. Smith was seen leaving the practice facility without a noticeable limp.
But the Cowboys’ worst fears were realized Thursday morning.
“An avulsion of the hamstring tendon in the knee is rare, but one that does require surgery,” said The 33rd Team’s Dr. Jess Flynn, who doesn’t anticipate a return for Smith any earlier than December, if at all in 2022. “Smith will have surgery to reattach his hamstring tendon. The bone must heal and withstand high forces.
“He could be back at end of the season,” Flynn continued, “but that’s certainly not a guarantee. My hope is that he would be close to 100 percent by next season.”
Team owner Jerry Jones told ESPN’s First Take Thursday morning that he’s anticipating 2022 first-round draft pick Tyler Smith stepping up in Smith’s absence, but he has been dealing with an injury (ankle) of his own. He played tackle at Tulsa and took reps at the position during organized team activities and minicamp, but in training camp he had been in competition for the starting left guard position.
The Cowboys also drafted Matt Waletzko out of North Dakota State in the fifth round earlier this year, but he, too, has been dealing with injuries and is also viewed as a developmental prospect.
“We’ve played a lot of games without Tyron, [but] not as successfully as we do with him,” Jones said. “But in the meantime, we’ve got a guy named Tyler Smith who’s come on the scene.”
Quarterback Dak Prescott has actually performed exceptionally well in games without his all-pro tackle. Prescott is 12-5 with a 104.3 passer rating in the last 17 games he has played without Smith.
As teams trim their roster to the mandated 53 players by next Tuesday, veterans offensive linemen will no doubt be cut around the league, but the Cowboys could be more proactive by acquiring a replacement for Tyron Smith in a trade.
“The issue should be concerning for the Cowboys,” said T.J. McCreight, director of scouting for The 33rd Team. “(Smith) has been an exceptional player but has missed games due to injuries the last six years. Not only do the Cowboys have to find and prepare a replacement but also come to grips with the fact that one of their core player is nearing the end. “
While Smith has dealt with a multitude of injuries the past several seasons — he has played in only 13 games since 2020 and hasn’t played a full season since 2015 — Flynn doesn’t connect this latest injury to the one’s that have slowed Smith in the past.
“This falls in the category of a freak injury,” Flynn said. “A football injury in a very strong athlete, sometimes the muscle is stronger than the tendon and they just tear. We see that with Achilles ruptures all the time. This is just an unfortunate byproduct of the game of football.”
|Date Injured||Body Part||Side||Diagnosis||In-game||Games Missed|
|12/24/2017||Knee||Right||Reaggravated knee injury LCL sprain||Yes||1|
|9/29/2019||Ankle||Right||High Ankle Sprain||Yes||2|
|9/16/2020||Neck||Undisclosed required surgery||No||12|
|12/21/2021||Ankle||Left||Reaggravated previous ankle injury (bone spur)||Yes||2|
The injury to Smith happened on a day Jones told reporters some positive injury news about the team, that Michael Gallup would avoid placement on the PUP (physically able to perform) list to start the season, giving the wide receiver a shot at playing in Week 1.