By David HelmanFOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer
DALLAS – It just seems like hot temperatures will be the theme this year.
Sure, the Dallas Cowboys are about to leave the oppressive, 110-degree weather for cooler weather, but I have a feeling the heat will follow them.
Spotlights and reviews come with the territory when you work for this franchise. But even so, 2022 feels like a completely unique situation for the Cowboys.
So while we wait for training camp to start next week, I wanted to take a look at 10 guys with high expectations for the next year.
I’ve often heard a saying attributed to Bill Parcells that, if a player is going to be The Guy, it has to happen in his third year, or it won’t happen at all.
I personally don’t think Biadasz has been the obvious issue that some make him out to be, but it’s fair to say that inside the Cowboys offensive line has been a problem. They enlisted Tyler Smith to say that, and we’ll get to him later. But Biadasz is entering his third NFL season and his second year as a full-time player.
The front office didn’t prioritize the center position in this year’s rotation, which could be viewed as a vote of confidence in the incumbent. If Biadasz doesn’t make another leap in Year 3, though, that attitude could change quickly.
I can’t justify putting Schultz at the top of this list, because at the end of the day he signed a contract that guarantees him a salary of $10.9 million regardless of what happens this season.
However, would you rather have one year of job security with $19,000 in the bank, or three to four years of job security with $30-plus million in the bank? That’s the kind of long-term safety Schultz lost and tagged this year.
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Now, it’s up to him to put his best foot forward as one of the centerpieces of this offense. With Michael Gallup still limited by his ACL rehab, Schultz and CeeDee Lamb will likely enter this season as Dak Prescott’s only established options in the base game. The enemies may be preparing for him like never before.
Schultz’s level of play, not to mention his good health, will go a long way in determining where his future lies — and what it looks like financially.
You don’t see rocket ship trajectories like this very often. Moore is entering his fourth season as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, having already been considered for NFL head coaching vacancies in Miami and Philadelphia, not to mention his alma mater, Boise State.
As someone who is staring down the barrel of his 34th birthday in a few months, I find it incredibly sad to say that Moore just turned 34 earlier this month.
The CV speaks for itself. This guy was one of the best college quarterbacks of all time, and he used that skill to blossom into one of the hottest coaching deals in the NFL.
Like everything else related to the Cowboys, though, Moore’s degree of aptitude may depend on who you ask. This team played like the most explosive offense in football last season, although anyone who has been paying attention will tell you that they ran the offense. Blowout wins against overmatched opponents helped mask the fact that the Cowboys put up a disappointing nine, 22 and 17 points in big-time games against Kansas City, Arizona and San Francisco.
Then, Moore was tasked with running back — arguably with fewer throws. With Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson gone, Gallup sidelined, the offensive line still a question mark.
How well Moore can deal with these changes, and succeed despite them, will be the deciding factor in this team’s trajectory.
Congratulations on all your success, Micah. Now, do it again.
Speaking of wild trajectories, consider the fact that we are talking about Micah Parsons as one of the central names of this next generation of NFL superstars. I guess that’s what happens when you compete for NFL Defensive Player of the Year as a player.
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These are good challenges to have, but the sports world will have all eyes on how Parsons builds on a 13-sack, 84-tackle season that saw him win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
There’s also the small matter of how Parsons’ level of play will dictate a lot about how Dan Quinn and his defense live up to last year’s impressive season.
Imagine being the man who has to follow Parsons’s footsteps.
Like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott before him, Parsons reminded us how much a rookie at the right time can do for an organization. Smith may not go after any opposing quarterbacks, but the Cowboys need him to have a similar impact to protect theirs.
There were many critics when Smith, a 21-year-old left out of Tulsa, was taken 24th overall. Detractors say he’s young and raw, but the Cowboys see him as a strong, aggressive prospect — one who should be able to shore up the left tackle spot this time around.
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The Cowboys offense fell apart at the end of last season for two obvious reasons. They couldn’t impose their will in the running game, and their offensive line was hampered by talented opponents, making life miserable for Prescott.
Smith is expected to help with that right away. If he can’t, it may be a visible problem.
Only a Dallas Cowboy can lead the league in touchdowns, be named a first-team All-Pro and find himself in a heated debate about whether he’s really good at his job.
Such is Diggs’ life. The dude has 14 career picks to his name going into Year 3, but, as critics will quickly tell you, his aggressive style helped him leave his share of big games doing so.
So, what will it give? Can Diggs build on last year’s season and establish himself as one of the best cornerbacks in football, or will opponents find his flaws and exploit them? Given the Cowboys’ polarizing nature, you can bet the debate will be raging all season.
Oh, and was it mentioned that Diggs is eligible to negotiate a new contract starting in 2023? His performance this year could be a little lower.
I don’t know if Lamb has ever seen “Finding Forrester,” but it doesn’t matter to get the point. Lamb got here in 2020 with a lot of moves, but it was also a new piece of the pile of carcasses, along with Cooper and Gallup.
Cooper is gone, and Gallup will be out for the time being, at least, as he continues to rehab an ACL injury. Even with Gallup signing a $57 million extension in the offseason, the word is clear that the Cowboys want Lamb to step into the true No. 1 role.
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It’s not that he was bad. Lamb’s numbers in his first two seasons have been solid by any objective measure, and he’s flashed his high-end talent multiple times. However, with Cooper and Gallup picking up less, he hasn’t always been as stellar as we’ve seen other young receivers like Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase do.
In 2022, the safety net has been removed, and it is time for the Lamb to fly.
Let’s face the obvious and admit that Dak could easily be No. He plays quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Pressure is the name of the game.
At some point, it becomes tiresome to keep emphasizing the amount of pressure on Prescott’s shoulders. His team fell flat after a hot start last season. He went from true MVP contender to out of the playoffs, seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Now, naturally, the debate rages over whether he can be That Guy, not to mention whether the Cowboys have surrounded him with enough talent to succeed.
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Those arguments are irrelevant. The season is here, and Prescott will be tasked with getting the Cowboys where they want to go, regardless of whether those expectations are fair or unfair. He is being paid 40 million dollars to do so, and that allows him to take away any other stress and anxiety.
Prescott likes to say that pressure is a privilege. It’s an amazing mindset to have, because he’s faced so much.
You can’t underestimate how big this year is for the Cowboys’ $90 million running back.
No, running back is not as important a position as quarterback, and this team’s success depends more on Prescott than anyone else. But this could be a make-or-break spot for Ezekiel Elliott.
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It’s starting to feel like a distant memory when Elliott was universally regarded as one of the league’s best football players and an annual threat to win the rushing title. In the time since he signed that mega-extension back in 2019, he’s been solid and reliable – but far from the dynamic player you’re hoping to secure with that kind of fee.
That last one is important, because the Cowboys will be able to reconsider that decision. The way Elliott’s deal is structured makes it impossible for him to part ways with her now. Cutting him in 2022 would have hit the team’s cap space by $30 million, with no relief available.
Making the decision in 2023 still wouldn’t be exciting for the Cowboys’ finances, but it’s starting to look.
The message should be clear: the Cowboys need a bounce-back season from Elliott in a big way if they’re going to make a real playoff run. Elliott needs it that way, or his future with the Cowboys is starting to look bleak.
Danger always stands at the top.
It’s probably cheating to list a great teacher at Number 1, but I can’t think of a suitable answer. Concerns about McCarthy’s job status were thrown into the mix once again in January, when a worried Jerry Jones left that question unanswered after a disappointing end to the season.
Jones later explained that he played coy about McCarthy’s status because he and his staff were working behind the scenes to protect Dan Quinn. I think the idea worked, although I’m still not sure what these two things have to do with each other. However, the damage done and the maintenance of McCarthy’s job is enough of a statement that he has had to deal with on several occasions this season.
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Considering last season’s aggressive exit from the playoffs, there is a clear expectation to bring something better. It’s the third year of McCarthy’s program, and winning the NFC East and exiting the playoffs without a single postseason win won’t satisfy anyone.
That’s a lot of motivation in itself. Throw out things, and it starts to make noise. Rumors of linking Sean Payton to the Cowboys continued throughout his career coaching the New Orleans Saints. Now that he has retired from broadcasting, how loud do you think they will be?
McCarthy also works down the hall from Quinn, who had a very successful coaching position in Atlanta and was a hot item in last year’s rotation.
There are potential head coaching options, if Jerry Jones wants to pursue them. It’s up to Mike McCarthy to prove that it won’t matter in 2023.
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports, providing insight and analysis on the NFL’s most visible franchise. Prior to joining FOX, David spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys’ official team website, DallasCowboys.com. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in the production of “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State.
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