Your eyes didn’t deceive you last season, Cowboys fans. The team really did get complacent as it limped to an 8-8 record and, to quote defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the players ultimately disunited.
“I think it all comes down to knowing who you are and focusing on what’s in front of you,” Lawrence said during an interview on Speak For Yourself, via SI.com. “We had so many obstacles come our way and it kind of divided us as a team.”
Lawrence didn’t specify what exactly caused the separation, but one could point to Ezekiel Elliott’s summer holdout and subsequent megadeal, various injuries that plagued the roster, and whispers surrounding then-lame duck, now-former head coach Jason Garrett.
The 2019 Cowboys were severe underachievers, doing less with more than perhaps any other team in the league. They regularly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and, when they did win, rested on those laurels instead of building positive momentum.
This was a squad — Lawrence included — that too often and too meticulously read their own press clippings. This was a squad that could hang 44 on the Rams then fail to score a touchdown the following week against the Eagles. Zero consistency, and even less mental fortitude.
“We were worried about other things around us instead of sticking to our jobs and the coach,” Lawrence said. “We didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had to win.”
Lawrence himself isn’t blameless, either. After scoring a $105 million contract extension, he turned in his worst statistical season (five sacks) since 2016. The man known as “Tank” played second fiddle to nickname-less newcomer Robert Quinn, who spun an 11.5-sack campaign into a $70 million free-agent deal with Chicago.
Not that he’d admit it, of course.
“Nothing happened to me last year,” Lawrence said.
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One Step Back, Two Forward?
Lack of accountability was a calling card of the Garrett era, a significant factor throughout six non-playoff seasons — each more disappointing than the last. The residual effect still lies in Lawrence and likely others who were conditioned to eschew responsibility.
The hope is that new HC Mike McCarthy stomps out these defects. And he should. Unlike Garrett, he’s a respected coach and proven winner, with a Super Bowl ring to show for it. What Lawrence didn’t outright say was that Garrett lost the locker room, the players’ respect. There wasn’t strong enough leadership to keep the seams sewn together.
Time will tell whether McCarthy’s reparative effort will spawn different results in 2020. But it’s encouraging that stars as mercurial as Lawrence can be have taken a long, hard look in the mirror, acknowledging their collective failure.
It’s a baby step. But a step nonetheless in the right direction.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL