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Dallas Cowboys: 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys look to defend their NFC East title and go deep into the postseason with a reshuffled roster.

Cowboys fans are tired of losing in the postseason. They are tired of excuses. They are tired of the Cowboys not taking a different offseason approach after 26 seasons of mediocrity.

A generation of Cowboys fans has never seen Dallas win a championship. The team last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy — the franchise's fifth — in 1995. That's a lifetime ago in football years. Yet, here they are again, hoping this is their year despite what history says and oddsmakers believe.

The Cowboys lost receiver Amari Cooper, right tackle La'el Collins, receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. and defensive end Randy Gregory, among others. They added low-cost free agents James Washington and Dante Fowler Jr., drawing criticism from much of the fan base after the Rams' all-in approach won them a Super Bowl last season. "I don't think you ever win the Super Bowl in the offseason," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said in defending the team's offseason approach. "It's a full body of work, what you put together over time. The biggest thing is it's been a long time since we have won a championship. You got to get over the hump. We didn't last year with the same group of players."

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OFFENSE

Dak Prescott finished second in Comeback Player of the Year voting after returning from a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle during the 2020 season. He looked better than new in the first six games of 2021, throwing 16 touchdowns with four interceptions and posting a 115.0 passer rating. But he injured his calf on the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime against the Patriots in Week 6. Prescott wasn't quite the same upon his return after a one-game absence, as he posted a 98.1 passer rating. Despite being one of the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks, Prescott still must prove he is one of the league's elite.

If the Cowboys could have moved on from Ezekiel Elliott after last season, they might have. But the guaranteed money in his contract ties him to the team for this season, at least. So, the Cowboys must make the best of a running back who looks like his best days are behind him. Elliott has averaged only 62.1 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry the past two seasons, while losing six fumbles. Nevertheless, Elliott, who turns 27 in July, has become a team leader. Tony Pollard could see more opportunities after the best statistical season of his career in 2021. He had 169 touches for 1,056 yards and two touchdowns, and his 5.5 yards per carry ranked second in the NFL among qualifying backs.

CeeDee Lamb was the team's leading receiver in his second season with 79 receptions for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns in earning his first Pro Bowl. He will face a challenge this season, though, without Cooper. The Cowboys re-signed Michael Gallup, who tore an ACL in Week 17 and will need the first few games of the 2022 season to fully recover. Dallas signed free agent James Washington, who asked Steelers coaches for more opportunities last season. The Cowboys are counting on Washington to be their third receiver after losing Wilson in free agency.

Tight end Dalton Schultz has played all 33 games the past two seasons, starting 29, and posting 141 receptions for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Cowboys used the franchise tag to keep Schultz, who should see even more chances this season.

It wasn't that long ago that the Cowboys had what was considered the best offensive line in football, but now the team is beginning a rebuild. Dallas cut right tackle Collins this offseason, leaving Terence Steele as the starter. Left tackle Tyron Smith continues to make Pro Bowls, but he's living off his reputation these days. Right guard Zack Martin continues to be the bright spot. He played 16 of 17 games last season and earned All-Pro honors for the fifth time in eight seasons. Center Tyler Biadasz has struggled, and the Cowboys will give Matt Farniok a chance to beat him out. First-round choice Tyler Smith will start his career at left guard, though he was drafted as the heir apparent at left tackle.

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DEFENSE

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn earned NFL Assistant Coach of the Year honors for turning around the Cowboys. A year after the unit surrendered the most points in franchise history, Quinn's group ranked seventh in points allowed and led the NFL with 34 takeaways.

The Cowboys, who tied for 13th in sacks, kept defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, reworking the $105 million contract he signed before the 2019 season. Last season, Lawrence played only seven games after breaking his foot in practice the week after the opener. The Cowboys need more out of Lawrence than what he has given them the past three seasons. Dallas hoped to keep the other starter at defensive end, but Randy Gregory opted to leave for Denver. The Cowboys replaced Gregory with Fowler, the No. 3 overall choice of the Jaguars in 2016 who has 35 sacks, 59 quarterback hits and 10 forced fumbles in his career. He reunites with Quinn, whom he played for in Atlanta in 2020. They drafted Sam Williams in the second round and re-signed Dorance Armstrong, and they will compete with Fowler for the starting job. Chauncey Golston and Tarell Basham should see snaps in the rotation. Carlos Watkins and Trysten Hill are penciled in as the starters at defensive tackle, with Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa and rookie John Ridgeway competing for roster spots.

There was some thought the Cowboys might move Micah Parsons to end after losing Gregory, but head coach Mike McCarthy threw cold water on that idea. The Cowboys intend to keep using Parsons in his versatile role. Parsons had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history for a defender, with COVID-19 the only thing stopping him from having a chance to set the NFL rookie record for sacks. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year unanimously, was an All-Pro and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting after 13 sacks, 20 tackles for a loss and 30 quarterback hits in 16 starts. The Cowboys re-signed former first-round choice Leighton Vander Esch to play weakside linebacker.

Trevon Diggs made the All-Pro team and the Pro Bowl after tying Everson Walls for the most interceptions in team history with 11. Critics, though, point to the league-high 1,051 yards he allowed in coverage. In 2021, Diggs proved to have elite ball skills. Now, he needs to prove he's a true shutdown cornerback. Anthony Brown has 57 career starts, including 16 last season, and slot corner Jourdan Lewis has 39 career starts, including 13 last season. Kelvin Joseph, a second-round choice in 2021, will get a chance for more playing time if he remains out of trouble off the field. At safety, Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson are penciled in as the starters with former first-rounder Malik Hooker also in the mix.

SPECIALISTS

Bryan Anger returns as the punter after a Pro Bowl season in which he set career bests with a 48.4-yard average on 65 punts, with a 44.6-yard net. Veteran long snapper Jake McQuaide also is coming back. Undrafted free agent Jonathan Garibay gets the first shot at the placekicking job, and Lirim Hajrullahu will compete with him during training camp. Pollard, who tied the FBS career record with seven kick-return TDs in three seasons at Memphis, will handle the team's kickoff return duties. Lamb is the primary punt returner.

FINAL ANALYSIS

You may not win a Super Bowl in the offseason, but you can lose one. The Cowboys, on paper, are not as good as they were last year when they lost during Wild Card Weekend of the playoffs. That means it might be the same ol', same ol' in 2022, with the Cowboys good enough to compete for the division title but not good enough to contend for the Super Bowl.

Prediction: 1st in NFC East