There was a ton of pomp and circumstance surrounding the Dallas Cowboys when they jettisoned longtime head coach Jason Garrett and signed a more proven commodity in Mike McCarthy last January. That was before they, like every other NFL team, ran up against the COVID-19 pandemic that essentially shut down the entire offseason — save for a truncated training camp. Several players opted out of the season entirely and the Cowboys got off to a slow start, made worse when quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending fractured ankle in Week 5 against the New York Giants.
The team was never the same offensively without Prescott under center and, still tied to the historically-worst defense in NFL history, floundered to a 6-10 finish that saw them finally come alive in December only to gut themselves in the regular season finale. As they enter the offseason, , because things remain complicated in all facets of the team until it’s done, which includes both free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. From there, the club will need to sift through a Rolodex of in-house free agent names to determine who stays and who goes. The front office is already hard at work on all of this, but must also balance it assessing prospects ahead of the draft — making for the busiest part of the offseason for the Cowboys.
Additionally, they’re racing against NFL deadlines to see it all done, and done well, adding to the level of difficulty in an offseason that’s already seen another tectonic shift in the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after just one season, replacing him with Dan Quinn and setting the stage for yet another reset of sorts on that side of that ball.
Welcome to the official CBS Sports hub of the Cowboys offseason, where we break down every single item of interest. Bookmark this, as it’ll be updated often.
[Latest update: Feb. 26]
Key upcoming dates
There are a slew of dates you’ll need to circle on your calendar as you keep track of the Cowboys this offseason — such as OTAs, mini-camp and training camp. For now, most of them are already known and worth noting. It’s also key to note things remain fluid during the coronavirus pandemic, because although the league hasn’t yet made any changes to the 2021 draft or free agency, much like last year, those could arrive at a moment’s notice.
More dates will be added as the Cowboys and the NFL finalize them, and assuming no changes due to COVID-19..
- February 23 through March 9: Franchise and transition tags
- March 15 through March 17: Legal tampering begins for free agents of other teams
- March 17: New league year, free agency officially begins
- April 19: Teams with returning head coaches can begin offseason programs
- April 29 through May 1: The NFL Draft takes place in Cleveland
- Mid-April to early May: The NFL will release the 2021 regular season schedule.
- Early May: Teams can hold their one three-day post-draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday
- Mid-May: Teams permitted to hold one three-day rookie minicamp
- Late May through early June: Beginning of organized team activities (OTAs)
- Mid-June: Mandatory mini-camp begins
- July 15: Deadline to negotiate a multiyear extension on a tagged player
- Late July: Training camp
- Early August: Preseason begins with Cowboys vs. Steelers in Hall of Fame Game (Canton, OH)
2020 Opt-out: Returns
- Maurice Canady, CB: Canady signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Cowboys in 2020, but opted out due to concerns with the raging COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 season will act as a mulligan for that contract, and the Cowboys look forward to seeing if the 26-year-old can help with their issues in the secondary.
- Jamize Olawale, FB: Things aren’t the same at the position as they were when he opted out, because Sewo Olonilua has become a spicy addition to the roster. Considering how Olawale hasn’t yet lived up to expectation, and with a notable drop or two on his resume, he’ll have to hit the ground running in a very real way in 2021.
- Stephen Guidry, WR: The team will finally get a look at Guidry, who will still be a rookie in 2021 after having not played in what would’ve been his first professional season last year. The speedy receiver out of Mississippi State will finally get his first chance at catching passes from Prescott, an MSU legend. He joins a WR corps loaded with talent at spots one through four, contingent upon what happens with Cedrick Wilson in free agency.
2021 Opponents and previous season record
Needless to say, the Cowboys better reboot as nothing short of contenders in 2021, because their schedule is a series of haymakers with little relief from what’s coming. At first blush, it’ll be all about taking care of home, and especially against teams they should be better than on paper. At full power, and assuming some type of improvement on defense, they should be able to overpower the Falcons, Broncos and Raiders; and possibly the Panthers as well, depending on if they get their hands on Deshaun Watson or not (which would make it a much more even bout). The toughest opponent outside of the division that’s set to visit AT&T Stadium would be the Cardinals and Kyler Murray, conjuring flashbacks of the 2020 matchup between the two, and the usual NFC East suspects won’t be an easy out, either.
- Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
- Carolina Panthers (5-11)
- Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
- Denver Broncos (5-11)
- Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
- New York Giants (6-10)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-11)
- Washington Football Team (7-9)
Stringing together wins at home is paramount when dissecting what they’re up against on the road, with matchups that include both teams from Super Bowl LV as well as the wily Saints, a cerebral challenge in head coach Sean Payton even if Drew Brees does hang up his uniform for good. Maybe the Vikings contend in the NFC North and, in the process, avenge the 2020 loss to the Cowboys, and maybe they don’t, but you can bet it’ll be another toe-to-toe dance that could help determine playoff seeding down the road. Can the Cowboys defense halt upstart QB Justin Herbert and use added division wins on the road to pad their totals as they try to reacquire the NFC East crown? We’ll find out soon enough.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
- Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
- New Orleans Saints (12-4)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
- Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
- New York Giants (6-10)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-11)
- Washington Football Team (7-9)
It’s also key to note that, when looking at the below combined win-loss records, the losses are heavily weighted toward an abysmal performance by the NFC East as a whole in 2020. When extrapolating for that reality, the combined win-loss record for the Cowboys schedule is much tougher than the math would indicate, and even though their division opponents finished poorly last season, NFC East clashes are always wildly unpredictable.
NFC East opponents: 17-30-1
Non-NFC East opponents: 81-79
In other words: strap up and get ready for the unforgiving 2021 gauntlet.
Home opponent 2020 win-loss record: 47-80
Away opponent 2020 win-loss record: 68-59
Free Agent Scorecard
Here’s where the rubber truly meets the road for the Cowboys.
They enter the offseason with a list of in-house free agents they must attend to before and while also surveying the landscape outside of Dallas to see who deserves an offer to join the team in 2020. The longer it takes to get a deal done on Prescott, the more challenging that becomes, though. With the team currently in a cap crunch despite having rolled over more than $25 million from 202, they’ll have to get creative to free up more money for potential signings, and striking a long-term deal with Prescott will potentially make it a lot easier to do so — if it happens before a second franchise tag needs to be applied at a tab of $37.7 million.
That said, here a complete list of in-house free agents for the Cowboys:
Exclusive rights free agents
These players don’t have any control over their rights in 2021, unless the Cowboys decide to not make an offer, as defensive lineman Antwaun Woods found out the hard way last offseason. These players have fewer than three accrued seasons in the NFL and, as such, the Cowboys could offer them a qualifying one-year deal on a league minimum salary (based upon number of credited seasons) and the player can not negotiate with any other club. So if an offer is made, they can either sign it or sit out the season and be in the same situation one year from now. Should the Cowboys not make an offer and an ERFA signs elsewhere, Dallas would receive no compensation for the loss.
- Ron’Dell Carter, DL: The talented lineman out of James Madison , signing on with the Cowboys who protected him weekly only to lose him the moment they didn’t — Carter having been poached by the Indianapolis Colts before eventually rejoining the Cowboys later in the year. A promising young talent who can also flex along the defensive line, it would stand to reason if Dan Quinn would like to get eyes on him to see if there’s anything Mike Nolan might’ve missed in choosing to not activate him in his first NFL season.
- Sewo Olonilua, RB: Technically, he’s a fullback but more importantly, he can be much more. The former TCU standout found his first NFL home not far from his home of Kingwood, Texas, as one of the team’s undrafted free agents alongside Carter. He spent much of his time on the practice squad but saw action later in the year before being reverted back to the 16-man unit on both occasions. Olonilua is a promising young speedster whom the Cowboys should be inclined to hang onto and develop behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, putting Olawale in a precarious situation in his attempt to return from a 2020 opt out.
Restricted free agents
Unlike Olonilua and Carter, the following four…