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How the Cowboys navigated a tricky offseason to try to reclaim the NFC East

The Cowboys are close to being contenders, but they needed to be smart about a couple big decisions.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys finally moved on from head coach Jason Garrett, who never seemed to have the team playing to its potential. Now with Mike McCarthy in charge, they’ll move forward in hopes of taking charge of an NFC East division that was competitive last season, but rarely impressive.

Retaining quarterback Dak Prescott, either through a lucrative extension or a one-year franchise tag, was the No. 1 priority for Dallas. And there was no chance the Cowboys were going to part ways with him.

But that leaves some other interesting decisions to be made.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8), missed playoffs

The Cowboys have a lot of cap space, but not enough to keep the whole Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Byron Jones trio intact. They should at least be able to address a couple of glaring needs in both free agency and the draft.

Before free agency:

  1. Wide receiver: Cooper has been great since the Cowboys traded for him in 2018, but now he’s set to hit the open market. Ditto Randall Cobb. It would be ideal if the Cowboys could bring back both guys. Cooper is a true No. 1 receiver, and he seems to have a good rapport with Prescott. The draft, which is deep at WR, is another way to bolster the position.
  2. Safety: Dallas has needed a boost at safety for what feels like a decade. It needs a player on that level to really elevate the defense. Jeff Heath is a free agent, but he’s the guy the Cowboys should be upgrading from anyway. The team could target the position with the No. 17 pick in the draft with a safety like Alabama’s Xavier McKinney or LSU’s Grant Delpit.
  3. Defensive tackle: Dallas needs a big, aggressive defensive tackle to free up players like Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. Both Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins will be free agents, and the Cowboys are also looking at potential turnover at the defensive end spot. They would likely be best served trying to find a veteran here, especially with last year’s second-round pick Trysten Hill around as the younger guy.

What Blogging The Boys wants most this offseason: Assuming Prescott will stay, that leaves a deal with Cooper as the top priority. Keeping defensive end Robert Quinn would also make for a successful free agency period. With Jones likely leaving, Dallas needs help in the secondary at both corner and safety. Some help on special teams and some beef at defensive tackle would round out a nice offseason. — RJ Ochoa

After free agency:

Keeping Prescott and Cooper was their top order, so the Cowboys are doing well so far. Unfortunately, the loss of Jones will be tough to recover from, as will Robert Quinn’s departure. The signing of Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix fills a need at safety, while bringing in both Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe gives them some needed beef up front. Still, they haven’t accounted for their biggest loss.

  1. Cornerback: Jones was a top-five cornerback in the NFL, so his loss is massive. The Cowboys don’t have anybody on the roster who comes close, and the signing of Maurice Canady doesn’t move the needle. They need a high-end cornerback, and fast.
  2. Edge rusher: Quinn was Dallas’ top pass rusher as DeMarcus Lawrence struggled to get to the quarterback in 2019. He signed with the Bears, though the Cowboys already needed some help bolstering their 19th-ranked pass rush from last season. Spending a draft pick on the position seems likely.
  3. Wide receiver: The Cowboys retained Cooper, but they lost Randall Cobb who, while unremarkable, seemed to play well in Dallas. They need some more help at wide receiver, especially as they move forward with Blake Jarwin as their top tight end.

After the draft:

Wide receiver wasn’t the Cowboys’ No. 1 priority, but when Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lambwho could turn out to be the best WR of this draft class — was available at No. 17, Dallas couldn’t pass on him.

The Cowboys’ next four picks also fell to them and were positions of needs. They snagged two cornerbacks: Alabama’s Trevon Diggs in the second round and Tulsa’s Reggie Robinson II in Round 4. They also took Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore in Round 3 and replaced one Wisconsin center (a recently retired Travis Frederick) with another (fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz).

Although they waited until the fifth round to add an edge player, Utah’s Bradlee Anae is a high-value pick.

Dan Kadar’s draft grade: B-