Optimism is reasonable for the 2021 Dallas Cowboys season

Super Bowl XXX Dallas Cowboys Ring (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Super Bowl XXX Dallas Cowboys Ring (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /

The 2021 Dallas Cowboys football season will eventually arrive. It seems impossible at the moment, but quarterback Dak Prescott’s contract situation will be resolved one way or another, and as others have predicted, I believe No. 4 will remain the starter in Dallas.

The draft will be in our rear-view mirror. Roster gaps will have been filled by the now-familiar “high value at low cost” free agency approach. I expect that the draft and free agency will focus on the defensive side, likely addressing needs at linebacker, a run-stopping defensive tackle, and at safety.

If we posit that. If we assume Prescott is healthy and starting in Week 1. If we assume that the team drafts well and snags a meaningful free-agent or two, what might the 2021 season hold for the Cowboys-faithful?

Dare a Cowboys fan dream of Super Bowl appearances anymore? After 26 years without an NFC Championship game appearance, is optimism foolishness? Is the Dallas fanbase now in the territory of the justified pessimism that once belonged to people like Cubs fans or Red Sox fans?

A recent ESPN story claimed that the Cowboys are at least two years away from any realistic hope of competing for the Lombardi Trophy. Recent history leaves little room to argue. However, there are good reasons to think otherwise. A reasonable case can be made that Dallas is on the doorstep of much better days.

The best offense in the NFL

Yep, I said it. Assuming that the Dak-drama is behind us when the season kicks off, the Dallas Cowboys have as good an offense (if not better) than anyone else in the league.

Remember, they were already a top offense last season until Prescott went down with his season-ending ankle injury. Before Dak’s injury, Dallas was averaging 32.6 points per game.

That offensive production was taking place without starting right tackle La’el Collins, and ongoing injury problems with tackle Tyron Smith and guard Zack Martin. There have been good reports regarding Collins and Smith in recent days and it appears that the Cowboys will begin the 2021 season fully stocked.

Reasons for optimism on defense

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn replaces Mike Nolan. Nolan was recently voted the “worst assistant” in a Football Outsiders poll. My own view is that such a judgment is unfair and inaccurate, but what is indisputable is that Quinn represents promise. Former players have raved about his ability to connect with his teams, and he guided the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl as their head coach.

But, strangely, optimism on defense can be anchored in something that preceded the coordinator change. During the last seven games of the 2020 season, the Dallas defense began to get turnovers in bunches. The defense only produced seven turnovers during the first nine games of the season. But, the defense produced 16 turnovers during the final seven games.

Defensive end Randy Gregory made his return and showed flashes of a major pass-rushing force. Gregory was second on the team in QB hits, with 12, trailing only defensive end Aldon Smith in that category. Safety Donovan Wilson appears to be a keeper also. And with the scheme change that is coming the hope is that the entire defense will show marked improvement.

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A positive conclusion for Dallas Cowboys fans

Additional reasons for optimism could be offered, but here is the point. If a team has one of the best offenses in the league, and an adequate defense that can compete in the turnover battle, your team has a real chance.

Increasingly, the NFL is proving to be a quick turnaround league. In the case of the Dallas Cowboys, the turnaround doesn’t require much. Give the Cowboys good health and an improved defense and the hope of an NFC title and Super Bowl appearance is not unreasonable.