The Dallas Cowboys should go all-in on tanking for a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, but not in an effort to replace Dak Prescott.
Any chance the Cowboys had of being Super Bowl contenders in 2020 ended emphatically with Dak Prescott’s injury. Any chance Dallas had of being a solid playoff team ended when they were pounded 38-10 by the Cardinals.
It’s time for Jerry Jones and the team’s front office to embrace the suck.
Yes, that means the franchise that prides itself on being “America’s Team” needs to fully commit to tanking this season. That might seem unacceptable for a team that is actually in first place in the NFC East with a record of 2-4, but it is a strategy that would be in the best interest of the franchise’s long-term goal of building a consistent championship contender.
Of course, most teams that even contemplate tanking their season do so in hopes of positioning themselves to secure a franchise quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Despite Prescott’s injury and complicated contract status, that isn’t the reason why the Cowboys should throw the current season down the tubes. There’s no reason for Jones and the team’s front office to change their articulated plans of inking Prescott to a long-term deal at some point in the future.
Are the Cowboys close to being good?
There’s no sense in finishing somewhere in the middle of the final NFL standings. A team with the talent and financial resources that the Cowboys enjoy should always strive for excellence. That doesn’t mean everything short of a Super Bowl title is a failure, but finishing with a .500 record should never be good enough for Dallas.
That’s the best this current Cowboys team can hope for Andy Dalton might prove to be a serviceable starter in Prescott’s absence, but he won’t suddenly elevate this offense to an elite level. The team’s inability to score more than 10 points against a very mediocre Cardinals’ defense last week perfectly illustrates how far the team’s offense is away from good at the moment.
In fairness to the offense, the defense has been the larger issue for Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff through six games. The unit ranks dead last in the NFL in terms of scoring defense. No matter how good the offense becomes, this team isn’t going anywhere while giving up 36.3 points per contest.
Fixing that unit’s lack of talent won’t be a straightforward process for the Cowboys front office. The team will need to find multiple new starters in the offseason to repair the defense.
The defensive line doesn’t have a single starter that should be considered an above-average player at his position. The need for a high-quality edge rusher is arguably the biggest issue facing the defense at the moment. Given the lack of cap space the Cowboys project to have moving forward, they’ll need a high draft pick to correct that problem.
The franchise believed they had their linebacking corps figured out for years to come, but Jaylon Smith’s struggles after signing a big contract in the offseason have perplexed Dallas officials. Combine that with Leighton Vander Esch’s injury issues and it’s easy to understand why reinforcements are needed on the second level of the Cowboys defense.
The team has high hopes for rookie Trevon Diggs to develop into a top-flight starter at cornerback, but Daryl Worley shouldn’t be counted on as a starter moving forward. The franchise’s desperate need for an upgrade at safety has been well-documented for multiple years now. The secondary might need a complete overhaul in the offseason if it wants to be competitive in 2021.
Add it all up and it’s obvious that the Cowboys have more needs than assets heading into next season. Tanking for a top draft pick could help accelerate Dallas’s rebuild on the defensive side of the ball.
So how would tanking help?
If the Cowboys can lose enough games to secure a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, they’ll have a choice in the range necessary to obtain one of the class’ top quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence will almost certainly go No. 1 overall. Even if Dallas fully commits to tanking, it’s hard to envision a scenario where they lose enough games to beat someone like the Jets to that spot.
They can, however, put themselves in a position to draft someone like Justin Fields or even Trey Lance. Both signal-callers have the potential required to cause another front office to fall in love with their skills during the pre-draft process. If the Cowboys hold the keys to another franchise securing a player they believe will blossom into a future All-Pro, they can secure a mountain of draft capital in exchange for the rights to acquire him.
Amassing a treasure trove of draft assets is the only reasonable way for the Cowboys to rebuild their defense quickly. They can’t afford to sign a top-flight edge rusher in free agency. They’ll need a first round pick to nab a player capable of helping them right away in that regard.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they need to use a top-five pick on that area of need though. The Cowboys can afford to move down several spots and still end up with a quality player who can help upgrade their pass rush. The idea here is that Dallas should be able to stay high enough in the first round to secure a high-quality edge rusher while adding multiple other pics that can help them solve their other issues.
The Cowboys could easily find a new potential starter at safety with any type of decent late first round or second round selection. The same can be said for finding a linebacker capable of upgrading their rotation as a rookie. Those positions don’t require premium draft picks in the same way that edge rusher or quarterback does.
Will the Cowboys actually tank?
Sadly, Cowboys fans should expect their team to fight tooth and nail to hang on to their slender lead in the NFC East standings. Even if they are successful, the team’s reward will be to host a playoff game in which they’ll likely be drubbed by the competition.
Following that, Dallas fans will convince themselves that Prescott’s return to full health will be enough to put them over the top in 2021. Spoiler alert, it won’t. The team will still lack the offseason resources required to fix their defense. If the Cowboys don’t tank this season they may find themselves in a stubborn cycle of mediocrity.