Slotted at No. 18, the Cowboys improved only one spot from the Worldwide Leader’s previous rankings, released in early February.
“Really, it’s Dak Prescott signing a four-year, $160 million deal, but we knew Prescott would be back in some form in 2021,” wrote ESPN’s Todd Archer. “Given how the Cowboys have operated in free agency so far, especially on defense, it is clear they are putting their biggest reason for improvement on Quinn. He will be installing a defense similar to what the Cowboys ran from 2014 to ’19 with the hopes that it allows key players such as DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to bounce back and the newcomers in free agency (Keanu Neal, Brent Urban, Damontae Kazee) and the draft to play fast without overthinking.”
In a small victory, Dallas was listed above its NFC East counterparts, with the New York Giants coming in at No. 21, the Washington Football Team — reigning division champs — at No. 22, and the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 26.
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More Favorable Ranking
Although the Cowboys did not go crazy in free agency, the brain trust smartly made it a point to prioritize defense. In a span of two weeks, the club imported three safeties (Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse), two linemen (Brent Urban, Carlos Watkins), and one outside linebacker (Tarell Basham).
Paired with an elite offense, buoyed by the return of Dak Prescott, Dallas is firmly in win-now mode. ESPN wouldn’t acknowledge that. But USA TODAY did in its post-free agency power rankings in which the Cowboys are 13th.
Locking up QB Dak Prescott made this offseason an unqualified success. But if new coordinator Dan Quinn can resuscitate this defense to just the average level, Dallas should run away with the NFC East.
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But It Gets Worse …
Yes, the Cowboys finished 6-10 and, holding the tenth pick in the upcoming draft, technically were among the league’s worst teams last year. Even the most ardent supporter is forced to confront this reality. However, some outlets are acting as if the organization wasn’t a Prescott ankle away from coasting to an NFC East title.
Take, for example, WalterFootball.com, which inexplicably ranked Dallas at No. 24 largely due to Dak’s record-setting (yet, in many ways, market-value) contract.
Dak Prescott was re-signed to a gargantuan contract despite coming off a brutal injury and having no success in the playoffs. Jerry Jones sure knows how to wheel and deal. Unfortunately for Jones, Prescott’s deal prevented him from signing any players of note, outside of Keanu Neal, who has an extensive injury history.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL