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Which Dallas Cowboys are under most pressure this season?

By David Helman
FOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer

DALLAS — It just seems like hot temperatures are going to be a theme this year.

True, the Dallas Cowboys are about to leave this oppressive, 110-degree weather for a much cooler climate, but I have a feeling the heat is going to follow them.

Spotlights and scrutiny come with the territory when you work for this franchise. But even still, 2022 feels like a uniquely pressure-packed situation for the Cowboys. 

So while we wait for training camp to begin next week, I wanted to take a look at 10 guys who have big expectations on them in the year ahead.

10. Tyler Biadasz

I’ve always heard the adage attributed to Bill Parcells that, if a player is going to become The Guy, it needs to happen by his third year, or it’s not going to happen at all.

I personally don’t think Biadasz has been quite the glaring issue that some make him out to be, but it’s also fair to say the interior of the Cowboys’ offensive line has been a problem spot. They drafted Tyler Smith to address that, and we’ll get to him later. But Biadasz is now entering his third NFL season and his second year as the full-time starter.

The front office didn’t prioritize the center position in this year’s draft cycle, which could be viewed as a vote of confidence in their incumbent. If Biadasz doesn’t make some sort of leap in Year 3, though, that attitude could change in a hurry.

9. Dalton Schultz

I can’t justify putting Schultz too high on this list, because at the end of the day he signed a tender that guarantees him a $10.9 million salary no matter what happens this season.

Still, would you rather have one year of job security with $10.9 million in the bank, or three to four years of job security with $30-plus million in the bank? That’s the type of long-term security Schultz lost by being tagged this year.

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Despite Dallas losing many key players, former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett praised the team for having a good season last year.

Now, it’s on him to put his best foot forward as one of the focal points of this offense. With Michael Gallup still limited by his ACL rehab, Schultz and CeeDee Lamb might enter this season as Dak Prescott’s only established options in the downfield passing game. Opponents will likely be preparing for him like never before.

Schultz’s level of play, not to mention his good health, will go a long way toward determining where his future lies — and how lucrative it looks.

8. Kellen Moore

You don’t see rocket ship trajectories like this often. Moore is entering his fourth season as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, having already been considered for NFL head coaching vacancies in Miami and Philadelphia, not to mention his college alma matter, Boise State. 

As someone staring down the barrel at his 34th birthday in just a few months, I find it incredibly depressing to relay that Moore just turned 34 earlier this month.

The résumé speaks for itself. The guy was one of the best college quarterbacks of all time, and he’s used that expertise to blossom into one of the hottest coaching commodities in the NFL. 

As with all things Cowboys-related, though, Moore’s degree of aptitude might depend on who you ask. This team cranked along as the most explosive offense in football last season, though anyone who was paying attention will tell you they sputtered down the stretch. Blowout wins against overmatched opponents helped mask the fact the Cowboys put up disappointing totals of nine, 22 and 17 in big-time games against Kansas City, Arizona and San Francisco.

Now, Moore is tasked with running it back — arguably with a lesser cast. Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson are gone, Gallup is sidelined, the offensive line is still a question mark. 

How well Moore can weather those changes, and succeed in spite of them, will be a dominant storyline in the trajectory of this team.

7. Micah Parsons

Congrats on all your success, Micah. Now, do it again.

Speaking of wild trajectories, consider the fact we’re talking about Micah Parsons as one of the centerpiece names of this next generation of NFL superstars. I guess that stuff happens when you contend for NFL Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie.

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These are good problems to have, but the sporting world will have all eyes on how well Parsons builds on the 13-sack, 84-tackle season that saw him win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

There’s also the little matter that Parsons’ level of play will dictate a lot about how Dan Quinn and his defense live up to last year’s impressive season.

6. Tyler Smith

Imagine being the guy that must follow up Parsons’ performance.

Like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott before him, Parsons reminded us just how much the right rookie at the right time can do for an organization. Smith might not get after any opposing quarterbacks, but the Cowboys need him to have a similar impact protecting theirs.

There were plenty of critics when Smith, the 21-year-old left tackle out of Tulsa, was drafted 24th overall. The detractors say he’s young and raw, but the Cowboys see him as a powerful, nasty left tackle of the future — who should be able to bolster the left guard spot in the meantime.

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The Dallas Cowboys’ offseason has been filled with question marks, including its 2022 NFL Draft class.

The Cowboys’ offense fell apart at the end of last season for two obvious reasons. They couldn’t impose their will in the run game, and their offensive line got mauled by talented opposing fronts, making life miserable on Prescott.

Smith is expected to help with that right away. If he can’t, it’s likely to be a noticeable problem.

5. Trevon Diggs

Only a Dallas Cowboy could lead the league in interceptions, be named a first-team All-Pro and find himself in a hot debate about whether he’s actually good at his job.

Such is life for Diggs. The dude has 14 career picks to his name heading into Year 3, but, as critics will be quick to tell you, his aggressive attitude has helped him give up his share of big plays while doing so.

So, what’s going to give? Can Diggs build on last year’s breakout season and cement himself as one of the truly elite corners in football, or will opponents find his flaws and exploit them? Given the Cowboys’ polarizing nature, you can bet the debate will be fierce all season long. 

Oh, and did a mention that Diggs is eligible to negotiate a new contract starting in 2023? His performance this year could do quite a bit for his bottom line.

4. CeeDee Lamb

You’re the man now.

I don’t know if Lamb has ever seen “Finding Forrester,” but it’s not necessary to get the point. Lamb got here in 2020 with plenty of fanfare, but he was also the newest piece of a stacked receiver corps, along with Cooper and Gallup.

Cooper is now gone, and Gallup will be unavailable for the time being, at the very least, as he continues to rehab an ACL injury. Even with Gallup signing a $57 million extension in the offseason, the implication is clear that the Cowboys want Lamb to step into the role of a true No. 1 receiver.

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With Amari Cooper no longer a member of the Dallas Cowboys, CeeDee Lamb is in line to be Dak Prescott’s top target.

It’s not that he has been bad. Lamb’s numbers through his first two seasons have been solid by any objective measure, and he has flashed his top-tier talent on plenty of occasions. Still, with Cooper and Gallup picking up some slack, he hasn’t needed star consistently the way we’ve seen other young receivers such as Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase do.

In 2022, the safety net has been removed, and it’s time for Lamb to fly.

3. Dak Prescott

Let’s point out the obvious and admit that Dak could easily be No. 1 on the list this year and every other year. He plays quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Pressure is the name of the game.

At some point, it gets tedious to continue emphasizing the amount of pressure on Prescott’s shoulders. His team slumped to a disappointing finish after a blazing start to last season. He went from a bona-fide MVP contender to out of the playoffs, seemingly in the blink of an eye. 

Now, as might be expected, the debate rages about whether he can be That Guy, not to mention whether the Cowboys have surrounded him with enough talent to succeed.

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Those arguments are honestly irrelevant. The season is here, and Prescott will be tasked with getting the Cowboys where they want to go, regardless of how fair or unfair those expectations are. He’s being paid $40 million to do so, and that tends to drown out any other qualms and concerns.

Prescott is fond of saying that pressure is a privilege. It’s a wonderful attitude to have, because he’s facing plenty of it.

2. Ezekiel Elliott

You can’t underestimate how big a year this is for the Cowboys’ $90 million back.

No, running back isn’t as important a position as quarterback, and this team’s success hinges much more on Prescott than anyone else. But this could truly be make-or-break territory for Ezekiel Elliott.

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In the latest running back rankings, Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott fell outside the top 10.

It’s starting to feel like a distant memory when Elliott was universally regarded as one of the league’s best ball-carriers and an annual threat to win the rushing title. In the time since he signed that mega-extension back in 2019, he has been solid and dependable – but far from the dynamic player you’re hoping to secure with that type of paycheck.

That last bit is important, because the Cowboys will soon be able to reconsider that decision. The way Elliott’s contract is structured makes it impossible to part ways with him right now. To have cut him in 2022 would have hit the team’s cap for $30 million, with zero relief to be gained.

Making that decision in 2023 still wouldn’t be fun for the Cowboys’ finances, but it starts to look doable.

The message should be clear: the Cowboys need a bounce back season from Elliott in a big way if they’re going to make a real playoff run. Elliott needs it just as much, or else his future with the Cowboys starts to look murky.

1. Mike McCarthy

The buck always stops at the top.

Maybe it’s cheating to list the head coach at No. 1, but I can’t think of a more fitting answer. Concerns about McCarthy’s job status got thrown in the mix all the way back in January, when a clearly frustrated Jerry Jones left that question unanswered after a disappointing finish to the season.

Jones would later explain that he played coy about McCarthy’s status because he and his staff were working behind the scenes to retain Dan Quinn. I suppose the strategy worked, though I’m still not sure what those two things have to do with each other. Regardless, the damage is done and McCarthy’s job security is enough of a talking point that he’s had to address it at multiple points this offseason.

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Given the angst at last season’s early exit from the playoffs, there is a clear expectation to deliver something better. It’s Year 3 of McCarthy’s program, and winning the NFC East and bowing out of the tournament without at least one postseason win isn’t going to satisfy anyone.

That’s plenty of motivation on its own. Throw in the outside factors, and it starts to get noisy. The whispers connecting Sean Payton to the Cowboys were persistent throughout his career coaching the New Orleans Saints. Now that he has retired to work as a broadcaster, how loud do you think they’re going to get. 

McCarthy also works right down the hall from Quinn, who had a largely successful head coaching stint in Atlanta and was a hot commodity in last year’s hiring cycle.

There are viable options for a new head coach, if Jerry Jones wants to pursue them. It’s on Mike McCarthy to prove that won’t be necessary in 2023.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports, providing insight and analysis on the NFL’s most visible franchise. Prior to joining FOX, David spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website, DallasCowboys.com. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State.


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