Dallas Cowboys: 2020 season preview and predictions

By Matt Johnson
Oct 16, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; A Dallas Cowboys helmet sits on the field prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Dallas won 30-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys entered 2019 with grand expectations and fell far short once again under Jason Garrett. Following a promising 5-3 start to the season, fans could only watch as the team let the NFC East crown slip away with an 8-8 record. Dallas overhauled its coaching staff this offseason, providing hope for 2020. Will the Cowboys finally live up to their potential in the NFC and could they even become a contender for Super Bowl LV?

Pressure is mounting on America’s Team to live up to the hype. Mike McCarthy could finally be the missing piece that puts this team over the top. But will his demons from Green Bay come back to haunt him? Windows for contending close quickly in the NFL and Jerry Jones recognizes how desperately Texas wants to support a winner.

Let’s take a look at the moves this offseason that will define the Cowboys’ season before previewing what could happen to Dallas in 2020. Finally, we’ll provide you with our prediction for the Cowboys in the 2020 NFL season.

Dallas Cowboys free-agent signings

The Cowboys knew they needed to find help on the defensive side this offseason. Dallas brought in Gerald McCoy, signing the six-time Pro Bowl selection to a three-year deal to boost their interior defensive line. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan wanted more beef up front, so the team also added the 346-pound Dontari Poe.

To make up for the loss of edge rusher Robert Quinn, Dallas took a chance on Aldon Smith, one of the biggest risk-reward moves in the NFL this offseason. As for the secondary, McCarthy will hope a reunion with safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix works out nicely for both sides.

Dallas didn’t forget to keep its elite offense together for years to come. Jones made Amari Cooper one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers with a massive deal. He also re-signed Blake Jarwin with a deal that signaled he will be the No. 1 tight end for years to come. The Cowboys also signed kicker Greg Zuerlein, hoping he can rediscover his All-Pro form in a new city. Now they just need to convince Dak Prescott, set to play under the franchise tag, to sign a record-breaking extension.

2020 free-agent losses

In an offseason that saw the Cowboys open up the checkbook, the organization also watched plenty of talent walk away. The loss of cornerback Byron Jones is a significant blow to this secondary. Shutdown corners are difficult to find and losing Jones will hurt this team against great offenses. If Smith and Randy Gregory can avoid off-field trouble, which isn’t a given, both will make up for Quinn’s departure.

On the offensive side, center Travis Frederick’s sudden retirement created a massive hole in a critical spot. Joe Looney does have experience as a starter after filling in for Frederick during the 2018 season. While the organization might be confident in him, he represents a significant downgrade and the team will also lose continuity on the offensive line. As for Randall Cobb and Jason Witten’s departures, they were easily replaced.

Dallas Cowboys 2020 NFL Draft picks

Everyone loved cracking jokes when we learned Jerry Jones would run the team’s draft on his own. Many expected him to fail miserably, setting this team back and missing out on great talent. Instead, Jones walked out with a draft haul that had NFL executives applauding him. While the draft board certainly fell in Dallas’ favor plenty of times, the front office executed and came out with an outstanding class. From the first round through the fifth round, the Cowboys came out as winners of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Let’s take a look at why we loved the Cowboys’ 2020 draft haul.

First round: CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver, Oklahoma

Dallas didn’t need to draft a receiver early. It easily could have selected an edge rusher with the No. 17 pick and rolled with the same passing offense that ranked second in the NFL this past season. Instead, the organization recognized the absurd value of Lamb falling right into its lap. The Cowboys added a DeAndre Hopkins clone, a receiver with the same ability to make absurd catches and dangerous ability in the open field. Lamb rounds out the NFL’s best trio of receivers and we wouldn’t be shocked if he develops into an All-Pro talent.

Second round: Trevon Diggs, cornerback, Alabama

The Cowboys likely considered using their first-round pick on Diggs. When he fell to them at 51, the decision to grab him took a matter of seconds. He can start immediately in this secondary thanks to his athleticism, length and instincts. The 6-foot-2 corner might start immediately and we expect defensive backs coach Al Harris to get even more out of him. While there will be some rough patches, which happens to all rookie cornerbacks, finding an immediate starter in Round 2 is always nice.

Third round: Neville Gallimore, defensive tackle, Oklahoma

We saw this offseason how much Dallas values depth on the defensive line. The ability to bring in fresh bodies to pressure the opposing quarterback is crucial and that’s the exact role Gallimore will play this season. A one-gap penetrator with the quickness and motor to cause problems in the backfield, this was an easy choice in the third round. Plus, he’ll get to learn from McCoy and defensive line coaches Jim Tomsula and Leon Lett.

Fourth round: Reggie Robinson II, cornerback, Tulsa

The Cowboys needed to find more depth in the secondary, so they jumped up in the fourth round to grab Tulsa’s top cover man. After high school, the 6-foot-1 defensive back transitioned from safety to corner and quickly made his mark in college. Robinson brings the prototypical size and length for the position, but he needs a lot of refinement. He won’t contribute immediately, but we expect him to start opposite of Diggs in 2021.

Fourth round: Tyler Biadasz, center, Wisconsin

While Dallas might have confidence in Looney, Biadasz is the caliber of player that can take his job this season. Wisconsin knows how to produce offensive linemen for the NFL and Biadasz was crucial to the Badgers’ success. If he stays healthy and fully develops, the Cowboys will have a Pro Bowl center for the next five seasons.

Fifth round: Bradlee Anaea, edge rusher, Utah

It took longer than we expected for the front office to draft an edge rusher. Finally, in the fifth round, Dallas found someone who can help chase after the quarterback and cause terror around the corner. He isn’t an impressive athlete for the position, but his motor and size will help him produce. This was a solid pick for Dallas.

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Cowboys roster projection

The Cowboys will head into the 2020 season with one of the NFL’s best offenses. It’s a unit that is strong at every level with elite talent along the offensive line, in the backfield and out wide. Dallas’s offense is capable of winning a Super Bowl, but some questions on defense are what might hold this team back.

Quarterback: Dak Prescott is going to be paid like an elite quarterback. While he might not be on the same tier as Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson, there aren’t many other quarterbacks better than Prescott. Coming off a season with nearly 5,000 passing yards, a 99.7 quarterback rating and 33 total touchdowns, he proved he can play at an MVP-caliber level. Now with an even greater supporting cast, he might win the NFL MVP this year.

Running back: Even after spending a little too much time on vacation this past season, Elliott still came back and dominated. While he fell short of 2,000 scrimmage yards, Dallas couldn’t complain about 1,777 total yards and 14 touchdowns. Elliott remains an outstanding all-purpose back and we also love Tony Pollard. Look for the Cowboys to get Pollard more involved this season and he will reward them with some big plays.

Wide receiver: This is the group to get most excited about. Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup both posted 1,100-yard seasons in 2019 and cause headaches for defensive coordinators. The Cowboys replaced Cobb with Lamb, the top receiver in the 2020 draft class, rounding out an incredible receiving corps. We could be looking at three No. 1 receivers all taking the field at the same time. Good luck to defenses attempting to stop that.

Tight end: Jason Witten’s departure doesn’t mean much for this team. Jarwin is far more explosive and in an era where athleticism is everything, the 25-year-old is poised to make a significant impact. He will be the fourth option when Prescott throws, but he’ll also take advantage of plenty of mismatches.

Offensive line: We can’t discount the loss of Frederick, who brought leadership and dependability to this offensive line. Due to his retirement, a top-three offensive line will certainly take a step back this season. Fortunately, All-Pro guard Zack Martin and two outstanding tackles in Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. The Cowboys will continue to dominate at the line of scrimmage and that’s outstanding news for Prescott and Elliott.

Defensive line: DeMarcus Lawrence is a stud coming off the edge, but this pass rush hasn’t always delivered for Dallas. The Cowboys ranked 12th in hurry rate (9.6%), ninth in quarterback knockdowns (49) and 16th in pressure rate (23.5%) this past season, per Pro Football Reference. It leaves room to improve, especially given the issues in the secondary. Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith could help generate an elite pass rush, but they also come with a lot of risks. If they can stay on the field and Gerald McCoy eats on the interior, this can be a great group.

Linebacker: It all comes down to durability at linebacker. Sean Lee is returning, but he is on the wrong side of 30 and has struggled to stay on the field. Meanwhile, Leighton Vander Esch is recovering from neck surgery, which will remain a concern even when he returns. If they both can stay healthy, pairing with standout linebacker Jaylon Smith, this could be a dominant front-seven in 2020.

Secondary: This is the area where we are most concerned. Anthony Brown struggled in the slot this past year, Chidobe Awuzie could be moved to safety and Jourdan Lewis dealt with inconsistency. Meanwhile, Diggs will likely go through lapses as a rookie. There isn’t a single great player in this secondary and if they don’t find the right matchups, this will be a problem for the Cowboys all season.

Dallas Cowboys 2020 schedule

Week 1: AT – Los Angeles Rams

Week 2: VS – Atlanta Falcons

Week 3: AT – Seattle Seahawks

Week 4: VS – Cleveland Browns

Week 5: VS – New York Giants

Week 6: VS – Arizona Cardinals

Week 7: AT – Washington Redskins

Week 8: AT – Philadelphia Eagles

Week 9: VS – Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 10: BYE WEEK

Week 11: AT – Minnesota Vikings

Week 12: VS – Washington Redskins

Week 13: AT – Baltimore Ravens

Week 14: AT – Cincinnati Bengals

Week 15: VS – San Francisco 49ers

Week 16: VS – Philadelphia Eagles

Week 17: AT – New York Giants

Best-case scenario

The Dallas Cowboys finally live up to their potential. Mike McCarthy proves to be the voice this team desperately needed and under his tutelage, Prescott takes the next step in his career. Prescott leads the NFL’s best offense and rides the wave of momentum to the playoffs and is named the NFL’s MVP.

On defense, a ferocious pass rush takes the pressure off the secondary. Smith and Gregory make the most of their final chances in the NFL, rounding out a group of edge rushers that leads the league in quarterback hurries and sacks. The Cowboys won’t have the best defense in the NFL, but sacks and turnovers make all the difference.

Everything comes together with a 12-4 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Coming out of a first-round bye, AT&T Stadium is rocking with a playoff atmosphere like we haven’t seen before. The Cowboys are crowned NFC champions for the first time since 1995 and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Dallas.

Worst-case scenario

The Cowboys do what they always do, fall flat on their face. It turns out, Garrett wasn’t the only problem in Dallas. McCarthy’s offense gives Prescott the same frustrations Aaron Rodgers experienced in Green Bay. This unit will put up great numbers, but they’ll fall short when it matters.

The risk of the offseason moves comes to fruition. Gregory and Smith stumble in their return to football and prove to be non-factors for a team that desperately needs edge rushers. The Cowboys give great quarterbacks all day to throw and they pick this secondary apart. For the fans, it means watching the Cowboys keep putting up points only for the defense to give them right back.

This team is still good enough to make the playoffs, but history repeats itself. The Cowboys get knocked out in the first round at home by the Philadelphia Eagles, the ultimate moment of humiliation. Stuck with McCarthy and little cap room for years to come, fans realize that this is their new normal.

Dallas Cowboys: 2020 season final predictions

Everything comes together for the Cowboys on offense. Prescott becomes an elite quarterback, stepping up in some clutch moments, with the rest of this offense thriving. McCarthy gets praised for his work with this team, winning Coach of the Year as the Cowboys win the NFC East. Unfortunately for Dallas, it isn’t enough. While they make it to the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco, their rivals send them home. It’s a scenario that Green Bay Packers fans are eerily familiar with.