This article is part of our 2020 Training Camp Preview series.
Expanding upon our team preview collection from earlier this offseason, we're gearing up for an irregular August with a series of team-specific articles to get you up to speed for training camp. You can find the previous writeup on the Dallas Cowboys here.
State of the Franchise
For a second straight offseason, the Cowboys' front office was unable to come to terms with Dak Prescott on a contract extension – or maybe they were just unwilling to do so. Forcing Prescott to play on the franchise tag could make financial sense in the short term given the uncertainty surrounding the salary cap post-COVID, but after teams like the Eagles and Rams moved quickly in recent years to lock up their own young franchise QBs, it does raise questions as to why Dallas has been dragging its heels.
Prescott hasn't done anything on or off the field to suggest he's a risky investment. The 26-year-old is coming off a season in which he just missed setting a new club record for passing yards in a year while showing improved accuracy on deep balls. By just about every statistical measure, Prescott is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league – if not top five – and he captains an offense well-stocked with dangerous weapons.
Swapping Jason Garrett out for Mike McCarthy could lead to the passing game becoming more prominent as well. Given the team's apparent reluctance to give him big bucks, another huge season could push Prescott out the door to free agency.
Travis Frederick's return from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, was an inspiring story in 2019, but it was short-lived as the All-Pro center announced his retirement this offseason. That leaves an open competition to replace him at center and try to keep the reputation of the Dallas offensive line intact.
Joe Looney, who filled in for Frederick in 2018, is the stable, experienced option, but his flaws were apparent in a starting role as Dak Prescott got sacked 56 times that season – more than in 2017 and 2019 combined. Second-year player Connor McGovern, who missed his entire rookie season with a pectoral injury, could be a factor in the middle as well if he fails in his challenge to unseat Connor Williams at left guard.
The player the team is likely hoping seizes the job, however, is Tyler Biadasz. A Wisconsin product just like Frederick, Biadasz was at one time projected to be an early-round pick in 2020, but an injury-marred final year for the Badgers hurt his draft stock, and he fell to Dallas in the fourth round. If the rookie is fully healthy, he may be the best option to keep the O-line – and the offense as a whole – humming at an elite level.
Elliott has been remarkably healthy during his four-year career despite a heavy workload. He's also the most high-profile player in the NFL to register a positive COVID-19 test, and at this point we still don't know for sure if the respiratory illness will have any long-term impact. Back in June, Elliott said he felt fine after experiencing mild symptoms for a couple days, and chances are it won't be an issue once he's back on the field. If for some reason he can't handle his usual volume, however, the team does have an intriguing backup in Tony Pollard.
After a dominant rookie campaign in 2018, a neck injury limited Vander Esch to nine games and 72 tackles last season, and he eventually had surgery in January. Considering neck issues came up during his pre-draft evaluations as well, it's a worrisome development, but a healthy Vander Esch is capable of putting up elite IDP numbers given the per-snap tackle rate he's put together over his career so far. The Cowboys, who have amassed plenty of experience nursing along talented but fragile linebackers during Sean Lee's career, likely will be cautious with Vander Esch heading into Week 1.
The All-Pro left tackle has had some trouble staying in the lineup in recent years, and Smith has missed exactly three games in each of the last four seasons, largely due to back trouble. When he's on the field, he remains one of the best blind-side protectors in the business, but with Travis Frederick out of the picture and left guard being unsettled, the Cowboys can ill afford for Smith to go down again for any length of time. The team did bring in Cameron Erving, who started eight games last year for Kansas City, as a veteran backup to provide some insurance.