Optimism certainly abounds for the 2021 season and Year 2 of the Mike McCarthy era at the Dallas Cowboys world headquarters at The Star in Frisco.
A team that has made the playoffs since 2018 and finished 6-10 in 2020 believes they have already won the offseason.
The biggest goals of securing Dak Prescott as their franchise quarterback and seeing him progress from a fractured ankle that sidelined him for the final 11 games of 2021 have been achieved.
Prescott became the richest player in franchise history with a four-year, $160 million contract in March.
And after participating in OTAs and mini camp with his teammates and there is no doubt he will be ready to go for the 2021 season.
And with the addition of 22 players in free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft and a relatively manageable schedule that ranks 31st in the NFL in strength, the pieces are in place, the Cowboys believe, for a successful 2021.
McCarthy certainly feels good about it all.
After living in a condo on the grounds of The Star for the last year, he has finally bought a house. His family, who had stayed in Green Bay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, move in on June 30.
“We’re excited about that,” McCarthy said. “We’re looking forward to it. It is a big day for us as a family. Just with the times and everything that we’ve been through.”
Will it be the dawning of a new day or the continuation of their own personal pandemic for McCarthy and the Cowboys?
In only the coach’s second year, 2021 is looking like McCarthy could be at a crossroads, and in a position where he could find himself on the hot seat.
Expectations bring more pressure and scrutiny, and those are heightened with the Cowboys.
And to be frank, the good feelings of optimism about 2021 don’t extend too far beyond the team’s inner circle and supportive fan base.
SportsBetting.ag recently released odds on which head coach will be fired first during the 2021 regular season. McCarthy has the lowest odds amongst the 32 NFL coaches at 7/1 or +700, seemingly putting on the hottest of hot seats in the league.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would vociferously disagree.
But last season’s 6-10 mark in McCarthy’s first season has placed a target on his back.
Reasons abound for the Cowboys’ woes in 2020, including injuries to Prescott and the offensive line as well as the lack of a normal offseason program due to the COVID-19 pandemic — all major factors that were out of McCarthy’s control.
But talk is cheap.
Hope often springs eternal in the offseason. The other 31 teams have similarly good feelings.
And it’s safe to say that Jones and the Cowboys looked through rose colored glasses more than 20 times since their last Super Bowl title 26 years ago only to end up with gloom and bitter disappointment.
And if the Cowboys don’t turn their offseason hopes into real success in 2021, it will be McCarthy who will suffer the consequences.
Jones knows full well the challenges that McCarthy faced last season. But he does not get a mulligan.
That 6-10 season is on his ledger now and forever. What’s also there is his decision to hire Mike Nolan as his defense coordinator and go full speed ahead in overhauling a unit during a pandemic with no offseason.
So the confusion and communication breakdowns that resulted in the Cowboys setting a franchise record for points allowed in 2020 and giving up the most yards and rushing yards ever were of his own doing or a prelude to his undoing, if you will.
McCarthy has tried to make amends for his coordinator gaffe by firing Nolan and replacing him with former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.
Quinn’s history of leading the Seattle Seahawks defense to back-to-back Super Bowls has engendered confidence.
But again, everyone is not sold on the Cowboys being improved enough in 2021.
Long-time NFL watcher Peter King of NBC Sports recently listed the Cowboys as the league’s 21st best team on his post-draft NFL power rankings.
He had them third in the NFC East behind the Washington Football Team (15th) and the New York Giants (20th).
That is simply unfathomable, unacceptable and ultimately untenable.
When Jones hired McCarthy after firing Jason Garrett after the 2019 season it came with the desire of immediate success.
McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl title with the Green Bay Packers in 2010 before being fired in 2018, was billed as a rejuvenated proven winner who was taking over a team that was ready to win now.
Of course, Covid-19 happened and Prescott got injured.
An extended honeymoon, however, was never part of the plan.
The Cowboys have just four playoff wins since 1995. Jones, who won three Super Bowl titles in his first seven years after buying the Cowboys in 1989, wants his taste of glory again.
As owner and general manager, Jones played a huge role in the Cowboys offseason moves and he likes the team’s chances in 2021.
But patience is not McCarthy’s ally with an aging Jones.
Each year creates more urgency and desperation for him, prompting this past quote on his hasty thirst for playoff success: “I don’t have time to have a bad time. It’s not on my schedule.”
And Jones, who has parted ways with all eight previous coaches in franchise history, is not going to fire himself.
The Cowboys are betting on their winning offseason.
Good feelings aside, it’s on McCarthy to cash in or crap out.
Both are on the table.