FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys’ season ended nearly a month ago in a similarly disappointing fashion as the previous 26: without a Super Bowl.
Since the loss in the divisional round of the playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers, Mike McCarthy has become the offensive playcaller, Dan Quinn has stayed as defensive coordinator, Kellen Moore has left the offensive coordinator role and been replaced by Brian Schottenheimer. A few players have had offseason surgeries. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has expressed optimism that his team is close, and executive vice president Stephen Jones hinted at another 10 years with Dak Prescott as the Cowboys' quarterback.
Maybe a four-day darkness retreat would do you as much good as Aaron Rodgers believes it will do for him.
But before moving on to 2023, let’s take a quick look back at 2022. Yes, another season ended without an NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl appearance, but there were some things the Cowboys did right.
Drafting Tyler Smith in the first round
The Cowboys faced a lot of questions when they took Smith at No. 24 overall. For a team that had nothing but penalty problems in 2021, selecting an offensive lineman who had 16 penalties (12 holding calls) in his last season at Tulsa seemed risky.
He was drafted as the left tackle of the future and was viewed as the left guard of the present when he was selected. The plan was to gain some experience and then move to the most important position on the line. Then Tyron Smith suffered a torn hamstring in training camp and had surgery that kept him out for the first 13 games of the regular season. Tyler Smith then became the left tackle of the present, and he succeeded just fine. There are refinements that will need to happen, but he has the strength, temperament and ability to be a decade-long starter at left tackle.
“He’s an alpha,” McCarthy said.
Not re-signing Randy Gregory
This might be more luck than skill on the Cowboys' part. They were ready to sign him to a five-year, $70 million deal as free agency began, but his agent balked at contract language, and he ended up signing with the Denver Broncos for the same length and price.
As a result, the Cowboys were able to re-sign DE Dorance Armstrong, add DE Dante Fowler Jr. and have money left to add LB Anthony Barr in training camp.
Gregory played in six games, missing a good portion of the season because of knee surgery. He had two sacks. Armstrong and Fowler played in all 17 games and had 8.5 and 6 sacks, respectively, while eating up a total of $1 million more in cap space than Gregory did in Denver.
Believing CeeDee Lamb was ready for the No. 1 receiver role.
This is something they got right and wrong. Lamb showed he was ready to be the No. 1 by finishing with 107 catches for 1,359 yards and 9 touchdowns. He dealt well with the extra attention, and his ability to play multiple spots made him a difficult matchup for opposing defenses. He was named to the Pro Bowl and earned second-team All-Pro honors.
Here's the wrong part: To make Lamb the No. 1, the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper, which wasn’t necessarily a mistake. The mistake was how they replaced Cooper. They re-signed Michael Gallup, but he was coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. They added James Washington in free agency and drafted Jalen Tolbert in the third round. Washington broke his foot in the first padded practice of training camp and did not catch a pass in the two games he played before his release. Tolbert caught two passes.
The Cowboys added veteran T.Y. Hilton late in the season, and he made a difference, but the Cowboys' outside passing game was limited beyond of Lamb.
Besides hoping Gallup is better after a full year off ACL surgery, they need to add more to the receiver room in 2023.
Believing Terence Steele was ready to be the starting right tackle
Again, some of this is happenstance, because had La’el Collins not been suspended in 2021, the Cowboys would not have been able to cut him, since he had $10 million guaranteed left in his contract. The suspension voided the guarantee and allowed the Cowboys to give Steele the job.
Before suffering a torn ACL and MCL, he was excellent. He and All-Pro guard Zack Martin formed a dominant right side, and his absence was felt down the stretch. Provided they feel good about his knee, the Cowboys would be wise to sign Steele, who is scheduled to be a restricted free agent, to a long-term deal this offseason.
Jerry Jones might have made it a little confusing at the start of the 2022 offseason by keeping McCarthy in limbo, but the best move the Cowboys made was keeping Quinn as the defensive coordinator. He had head-coaching chances, but Jones was able to sweet talk him (give him more money) to stay in a spot he liked with a defense that has a lot of talent (Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs). The Cowboys became the first defense to lead the league in takeaways in back-to-back seasons since the Steel Curtain Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.
Perhaps next offseason “Keeping Dan Quinn,” will be on the "things the Cowboys did right" list, since he pulled his name out of head-coaching vacancies to coach the Dallas defense a third year.