Skip to main content

State of the 2024 Dallas Cowboys: Will Dak Prescott, Mike McCarthy shake past playoff failures?

Where does your squad stand ahead of the 2024 NFL season? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the new faces to know, one significant fantasy spin and the stakes at play in the campaign to come.

Members of the Cowboys organization, Cowboys fans around the world and those who remember when it was the Cowboys who were giving out postseason beatdowns to the Packers, instead of vice versa ...

Dallas won the NFC East last season with a 12-5 mark -- and one of those victories even came against a playoff team! If you thought that was mean, you might want to skip ahead a little, because we do have to mention how, one year after being stifled by the 49ers in the Divisional Round on the road, the Cowboys bailed out on Super Wild Card Weekend, losing 48-32 to the Packers at home.

It was the kind of humiliating defeat that had many wondering if Jerry Jones would make a change at head coach. Spoiler alert: He didn't. Going forward, though, you have to imagine Mike McCarthy won't be given a lot of leeway in his fifth season as Dallas' head coach.

2024 brain trust

Table inside Article
Head coach Mike McCarthy
Owner/president/GM Jerry Jones
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer
Special teams coordinator John Fassel

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Cowboys' most notable roster developments for the 2024 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma (1-29) Ezekiel Elliott, RB Tony Pollard, RB
Marshawn Kneeland, DE, Western Michigan (2-56) Royce Freeman, RB Michael Gallup, WR
Cooper Beebe, OG, Kansas State (3-73) Eric Kendricks, LB Tyron Smith, OT
Marist Liufau, LB, Notre Dame (3-87) Tyler Biadasz, C
Caelen Carson, CB, Wake Forest (5-174) Dorance Armstrong, DE
Ryan Flournoy, WR, Southeast Missouri State (6-216) Dante Fowler Jr., DE
Nathan Thomas, OT, Louisiana (7-233) Neville Gallimore, DT
Justin Rogers, DT, Auburn (7-244) Johnathan Hankins, DT
Leighton Vander Esch, LB
Stephon Gilmore, CB
Jayron Kearse, S

New faces to know

Mike Zimmer
Defensive coordinator

Hey, Zim is back! Not exactly a new face in Dallas; he's an old friend to the franchise. The former Vikings head coach launched his NFL career in Big D, serving as an assistant from 1994 through '99 and as defensive coordinator from 2000 through 2006. Now, he's replacing Dan Quinn as DC. The bad news for Zimmer: The defense lost several players who logged significant snap counts in 2023, including Stephon Gilmore, Jayron Kearse, Dorance Armstrong and Johnathan Hankins. The good news: There's still a ton of talent on that side of the ball, headlined by linebacker Micah Parsons, defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa and cornerbacks DaRon Bland and Trevon Diggs. Just don't be the TikTok conspiracy theorist who suggests that, because Zimmer worked with Deion Sanders at Jackson State and Colorado over the past two years, his hiring will eventually lead to Dallas installing Deion as head coach and then drafting Shedeur Sanders to play QB. Oh, wait: I just did that.

Eric Kendricks
LB · Year 10

Funny, after the 2021 season, when Zimmer was fired by the Vikings, Kendricks -- who played for the coach in Minnesota, earning Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors in 2019 -- called Zim out for implementing a "fear-based" culture. But now, after being released for the second time in as many offseasons (by the Vikings in 2023 and the Chargers in 2024), Kendricks is in Dallas, where he signed in part, he said, because of Zimmer, whom he "can't wait" to work with again. Here's a lesson, kids: The people you kick on the way up will be there on your way down. 

Ezekiel Elliott
RB · Year 9

Oh, man -- it's just one big reunion in Dallas these days. The Cowboys might as well bring back Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin while they're at it. Zeke's return after one season with the Patriots was necessitated by the defection of Tony Pollard to Tennessee in free agency. Now he tops a depth chart that also consists of Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn and Royce Freeman. Will Zeke be enough to spark the ground game? Shoot, seriously ... What is Emmitt Smith up to right now? 

State of the QB

I still believe Dak Prescott can be the man to lead Dallas to the promised land. But he's going to need to prove it in the final season of the four-year, $160 million extension he signed in March of 2021. Prescott has enjoyed outstanding success in the regular season, posting a record of 73-41 in his career, including a 13-2 mark against NFC East teams since 2021. That said, playoff losses could end up defining his Cowboys legacy. In seven postseason appearances, Prescott has lost five times, with both wins coming in the Wild-Card Round. I mean, he did end Tom Brady's career, so that's cool. Otherwise, the last two seasons have ended with horrific playoff defeats to, again, teams this franchise dominated in the 1990s heyday. As much as I love Dak, he must come through when it counts this season.

Most important non-QB

Micah Parsons
LB · Year 4

Parsons led the Cowboys with 14 sacks, 33 quarterback hits and 18 tackles for loss in 2023. I could go on and on about the numbers, but you know how good he is. It's a lot like how the Steelers are buoyed by T.J. Watt. The Cowboys, I believe, would be a competitive team even if they had to roll with Cooper Rush or Trey Lance at quarterback. (Yes, they still have Lance.) I don't think they would be as effective without Parsons. (And I mean no disrespect to my guys Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland.)

My HOTTEST Cowboys fantasy take:

Ryan Flournoy is going to be a name to remember this season.

The sixth-round pick out of Southeast Missouri State is pretty raw, but he's also highly athletic and looked good at the Senior Bowl. Dallas needs some receiver help to go along with CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks. (Let's be honest: It's not like the Cowboys are going to run the ball a lot.) I think Flournoy is going to send people scrambling to the waiver wire to scoop him up when he becomes the third receiver in Dallas.

2024 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 6: vs. Detroit Lions. Oh, man. We all remember what happened during this matchup last year, when the Lions appeared to log a last-minute win -- until tackle Taylor Decker, who caught the would-be 2-point conversion, was ruled an ineligible receiver. It was pretty wild. For the Cowboys in 2024, this is part of a stretch of tough games to start this season, including at Cleveland (Week 1), vs. Baltimore (Week 3) and at Pittsburgh (Week 5).
  • Week 8 (SNF): at San Francisco 49ers. After a Week 7 bye, the 'Boys head to a venue where they lost their last two appearances by the combined score of 61-22. You know Ezekiel Elliott is going to hate seeing all of the replays of his time at center vs. the 49ers in the 2022 playoffs.
  • Week 17: at Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys don't have their first meeting with the Eagles this year until Week 10 at home -- and then this roadie in Philadelphia could determine their playoff fate. Dallas closes with the Commanders in Week 18.

For 2024 to be a success, the Cowboys MUST:

A) Win the Super Bowl
B) Make a playoff run
C) Earn a playoff berth
D) Finish above .500
E) Show progress

My answer: B) Make a playoff run. I know Jerry Jones wants another Lombardi Trophy. I saw the quote about being "all in" on 2024. But let's examine what he did during the offseason -- or, more to the point, what he didn't do. He didn't overspend on free agents or make any outrageous moves in the draft. Using a first-round pick on Tyler Guyton was a very solid decision, and more of a long-term acquisition than a win-now lever pull. Jones might be playing the long game here. Could he end up shelling out for a CeeDee Lamb extension this offseason, with the receiver staying away from mandatory minicamp? Might Jones ultimately make a big splash on the market next offseason, or perhaps give Micah Parsons an extension of his own? The interesting thing is, Jones' head coach and quarterback are each on the final year of their respective deals, and Dallas definitely should be in win-now mode. McCarthy might not have to reach the Super Bowl, but if he wants to be part of Jones' future plans, it seems like he'll need to get to the NFC Championship Game, at the very least.

Related Content