The Dallas Cowboys lost talent in the offseason. But here’s why McCarthy is confident

Associated Press
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Mike McCarthy is considered by some to be a dead man walking as coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

The front office did little to improve the team in the offseason, following last year’s 12-5 season that ended with a wildcard loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Cowboys traded No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns and allowed defensive end Randy Gregory to walk in free agency to the Denver Broncos.

The Cowboys tried to salvage things by signing receiver James Washington and defensive end Dante Fowler to one-year, make-good contracts.

But this is a team that has taken a step back in talent from a year ago when the Cowboys still weren’t good enough to end a 26-year gap since their last Super Bowl title in 1995.

With former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton now available, it’s well understood that taking the next step is a must for McCarthy in Year 3 with the Cowboys. Payton is a favorite of owner Jerry Jones from Payton’s days as an assistant coach under Bill Parcells.

And while there is not a lot of optimism outside the organization that the Cowboys have done enough in the offseason, there is no lack of confidence from McCarthy himself.

As the architect of a 2010 Super Bowl title team with the Green Bay Packers, he believes in himself as coach.

“I know how to win,” McCarthy defiantly and boldly proclaimed in January. “I know how to win in this league. I know how to win playoff games. I know how to win a championship. So I have great confidence in that. What we’ve built here in two seasons, I feel very good about, and I think with that you just stay true to that.”

McCarthy believes in the foundation he has laid since coming to the Cowboys in 2020 and is banking on a full offseason program for the first time in three years to yield immediate results.

After having an abbreviated and virtual settings the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McCarthy and the Cowboys conducted Phase One of the offseason program, and this past weekend’s rookie minicamp, completely in person for the first time

He says it finally feels like normal football again and he can’t wait until the entire team can get together with the veterans and rookies starting on Monday so they can continue to build toward the 2022 season.

To him, this is a fresh start, not a final chance.

“This is the first real offseason, just to have the benefit of being full-time in the draft process, the coaches being able to take advantage of bumping into players accidentally in the hall while they’re here during captains’ workouts,” McCarthy said. “Just having 63 guys here since the first day of the offseason program. To me, this is what I’m accustomed to.”

Certainly, every team in the NFL feels good about their offseason program. But McCarthy believes his program is the best in the NFL, and he is counting on growth from within the organization to make the biggest difference.

In terms of meetings, the Cowboys operate in the offseason no different than they do during the season.

The team has had almost 100 percent participation from the veterans, dating back to “the Captains’ workouts,” which began in February, to Phase one of the official offseason program, which began April 18.

After the Cowboys complete Phase 2 this week, they have OTA workouts on May 24-25, June 1-2, June 6-7, June 9-10 and then a mandatory minicamp June 14-16 before breaking until the start of training camp in late July.

“This is where I feel like you can make your biggest gains as a football team, because one thing about your veterans: they’re going to be here,” McCarthy said. “So as much time as you need to spend with those guys, that gets lost in the equation of advancing your team from one year to the next. We’ve taken full advantage of that. We’ve had a really good Phase 1. Obviously we’ve got our last week of Phase 2 coming up, and we’ve really hit the target. I feel great about it.”

It’s no secret that quarterback Dak Prescott’s full participation in the offseason for the first time since 2019 is the biggest source of optimism from within. He missed 2020 in a contract hold out and spent last offseason rehabbing from a fractured ankle.

Veteran tackle Tyron Smith and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence are also able to fully participate in the offseason program for the first team in years after being limited by injuries and surgeries in the recent past.

And that doesn’t include the internal optimism for the continued growth of linebacker Micah Parsons, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and fellow 2021 draft picks in defensive tackles Osa Odighizuwa and Quenton Bohanna, who are being counted on to make huge jumps in their second year.

Add in a 2022 draft class led by first-round pick offensive lineman Tyler Smith, and McCarthy believes the Cowboys have the foundation of a championship program.

The team certainly looks the part, as it is much bigger - especially on defense with Bohanna (330 pounds) and 2022 fifth-round pick John Ridgeway (320 pounds) weighing more than any pair of tackles in team history.

Now, they must play the part.

McCarthy believes they can.