GM Notebook: Cowboys Need a ‘Bold Move’ & the NFL Preseason Matters

Mike McCarthy

Getty Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy walks off the field after an NFL game.

Randy Mueller, the 2000 NFL Executive of the Year, brings over 30 years of experience in the football business, including stints as the general manager of Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. With Heavy, Mueller breaks down the NFL from a front office perspective. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyMueller_

We hit the ground running (literally if you’re a New York Giants fan) on our first weekend of real football NFL style. We learned more in one day than we learned in 5 weeks of preseason. Yes, it’s different when real bullets are flying. 

The Cowboys Need to Make a Bold Move

With the injury to Dak Prescott’s thumb on Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys are now caught with two inexperienced backups in his replacement. It sounds coy to say “they know our system” and stay the course. But what matters most to me, as a former GM, is what does the locker room say?

It’s the job of the front office to give the football team and organization hope. To do that, in this case, requires a bold move to clearly send a message that we are not just treading water until Prescott comes back. I know they have confidence in Cooper Rush and actually, he played well a year ago in relief duty, but a prolonged absence like they now face requires a move that boosts the adrenaline of the locker room. 

This happened to us once, years ago in Seattle. In Week 1 of a regular season, we lost star RB Curt Warner to an ACL injury. He was the match that lit our offense. Our players were down and our coaches knew it.

Then GM Mike McCormack (a Hall of Fame tackle himself) understood what was needed.  He signed a somewhat limited Franco Harris who had been cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, the tread was diminished on the tire, but when he walked in the door, our team’s chins were raised, hope was restored and we felt like we had a chance (throughout the whole city). We finished that season 12-4 and returned to the playoffs. 

I understand that skills are very important, but sometimes the message and morale can really be more important and in need of a shot in the arm. I don’t know who that QB is that can deliver that mindset, but here is hoping that the Cowboys make the effort to find it. 

Patrick Mahomes Will Be Just Fine

In what may have been the best version of Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes since his MVP year in 2018, the Chiefs showed why it made sense to trade WR Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. They ran 66 offensive plays, recorded 33 first downs and their new version of the old MVP was on full display with a 30-for-39, 360-yard and 5-touchdown effort.

The numbers don’t surprise me but a closer look should make you smile as a Chiefs fan.

Mahomes work from within the pocket, showing patience, processing information and vision to manipulate coverage is something that was missing during their low points last year. Mahomes did not resort to recess football but instead showed the discipline to work the system better than he has in a couple of years.

Too often in 2021, we would see Mahomes abandon the pocket for greener pastures and take unneeded chances outside the system, trying to make the big play.  He still flashed the crazy arm talent and the ability to make throws without his lower body being connected. That sets him apart from everyone else in the league, but we all take time to mature.

If the mature Mahomes performs with this high level of intellect and trusts his offensive system- the rest of the league is in trouble. 

Brian Daboll Just Took Over New York City

When I saw that the Giants were going to start three rookie offensive linemen, my expectations dropped for Sunday’s game versus Tennessee. But, in his first day on the job, the Giants’ new head coach may have developed an identity that it takes some coaches years to grasp. The Giants ran for 238 yards on a defense that was supposed to carry the load for the Titans to a return to the playoffs in 2022. They shoved it down their throats. 

The confidence that a physical performance like that can give a team might just surprise the heck out of all NFC East rivals — especially after what we saw out of Big D and even Washington on the same day. The Giants imposed their will on tough guy Mike Vrabel’s defense. Who saw that coming?

And not only that, but the re-emergence of RB Saquon Barkley in the style of what made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. What jumped out at me was the way he ran behind his pads, finished runs after taking on contact and making plays above and beyond the way they were drawn up on a whiteboard.

It’s more than his numbers — 18 rushes for 164 yards and 9.1 yards per carry — if that’s even possible? Oh yeah, and 6 catches for 30 yards. It’s the toughness he showed to get tough yards and the open field speed that had been missing since the ACL injury of 2020. 

Yes, Preseason Matters

I saw teams — more than one team — on Sunday go from the dock of the bay (standing around in baseball hats in preseason) to the autobahn when things move fast and with a purpose (the first regular season game). 

Being ready for prime time is easy to talk about, but the fact is, it caught a couple of teams with rust on their games.  

The Cincinnati Bengals made numerous errors in execution (Joe Burrow and his 4 interceptions) and sideline decision-making (Zac Taylor not challenging a sure TD that would have won the game and punting with 15 seconds left on the play clock late in overtime) that had me thinking: Is this team in a post-Super Bowl stupor still? 

The same could be said of the Los Angeles Rams effort on Thursday night. Were they ready to play? Nah. The Green Bay Packers or Indianapolis Colts? They both looked as though they were sleepwalking and playing like they were too cool for school.

My point is, players need work, and so do coaches. At real-time speed. I understand not playing your stars in the preseason, but it does come with a price. Let’s see what happens with these teams in Week 2. I can’t wait to see a response to being punched in the face. 

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