A big year could put these Dallas Cowboys in contention for annual NFL awards
No preseason games combined with limited media access to NFL training camps this year leaves most of us in the dark until the regular season kicks off on September 10th. Naturally, most will keep their offseason optimism sky high straight into Week 1. However, optimism does not necessarily always mean unrealistic. With that in mind, here are a handful of yearly awards that, if all goes according to plan, a Dallas Cowboy could very well be in contention for them by the end of the season (ranked by most likely to least likely).
1. Most Valuable Player: Dak Prescott, QB
While reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes is the odds-on favorite to repeat this year, followed closely by Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson, Dallas’ franchise signal-caller is tied for the fourth-best odds (+2200) according to Vegas Insider. If we’re being blunt, Dak (outside of Mahomes) might be in the best situation in all of football to compete for MVP. He is the quarterback of last season’s top overall offense, which by the way, has made a few moves to be even better this coming year. This unit added arguably the top receiver in the draft in CeeDee Lamb, a (much) more athletic, field-stretching tight end who will step into the starting role in Blake Jarwin, and they hired an offensive-minded head coach known for his excellent quarterback development. Even with McCarthy in the building now, he has already said offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will continue his play-calling duties, providing some stability and comfortability for Prescott. Assuming this offense stays mostly healthy, Dak has no excuse not to perform at a high enough level to be a dark horse in the MVP conversation when this season comes to an end.
2. Comeback Player of the Year: Aldon Smith, OLB/DE
The most intriguing acquisition this offseason by the Cowboys was the shocking signing of Aldon Smith. Despite being out of the league since 2015 due to suspension and a variety of personal reasons, Smith brings a pedigree of elite production from his time in San Francisco (and one year in Oakland), with 47.5 sacks in just 59 career games. Certainly, anyone out of the game for that length of time will need some time to get back into a rhythm, to a point where he can produce in the league again. From what we have heard from everyone inside Cowboys camp, including Prescott, coaches, and defensive teammates, Smith is already turning heads in a big way. His length, power, and pass-rushing technique have always been major strengths. He is expected to play a contributing role in Mike Nolan’s multiple-front defense and should have enough opportunities to produce. To what capacity? That is the great unknown after being out of the game for almost five years, but even a moderate level of production under these circumstances should warrant some serious consideration for Comeback Player of the Year.
3. Coach of the Year: Mike McCarthy, Head Coach
Choosing a coach here may not be quite as fun as another high-potential player, but if the Cowboys play to their capabilities, it can happen for the new head coach in Dallas. Of course, every Cowboys fan should be rooting for this to come true, as it would almost certainly indicate an NFC East title and high playoff seed at the end of the regular season. McCarthy has a rare opportunity in the NFL of coming into an ideal situation to succeed right away. No rookie quarterback, no roster rebuilding, and no obvious major holes. Instead, he inherits the league’s top offense, a quarterback in a contract season eager to deliver, and a defense with a chip on their shoulder after a disappointing performance last year. Everyone in Dallas has a lot to prove in 2020, and if they flourish, McCarthy will (deservedly) get a lot of credit for being a difference-maker.
4. Defensive Player of the Year: Leighton Vander Esch, LB
After a scary neck injury that ended Vander Esch’s 2019 season after just nine games, the second-year linebacker looks poised for a bounce-back year. In their new defense, Vander Esch is making the move to the Mike position, right behind a beefed-up interior defensive line (hello, Dontari Poe), although the loss of Gerald McCoy is certainly a bummer. However, this move to the middle should allow Vander Esch to play within the box nearly every down in Nolan’s hybrid defensive scheme, giving him even more opportunities to make plays on the ball without having to work through as much traffic as his first two seasons. All reports from camp are that Vander Esch is itching to redeem himself after last season's disappointing encore to his All-Pro rookie season. He possesses rare size and athleticism for the position, and the hope is that this move will help him thrive, similar to his rookie form when he was credited with 140 tackles despite only starting eleven games.
5. Offensive Rookie of the Year: CeeDee Lamb, WR
It’s hard for expectations to be much higher than when a wide receiver for America’s team puts on jersey #88, particularly when they are a highly-touted rookie with phenomenal college production. Lamb’s versatility and explosiveness will add even more juice to a loaded offense. One of the challenges that come with that, however, is there are only so many touches to go around. In an offense already featuring Zeke, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup as its primary playmakers, the rookie will need to make the most of every opportunity. According to players and coaches from inside camp, Lamb is wasting no time in showing the Cowboys what he can bring to the table. To put himself in the race for this rookie award, Lamb will have to put together quite a string of splash performances to keep pace with favorites such as Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Jerry Jeudy, among others. The competition here, especially with the top two quarterbacks (assuming Tua plays/starts most of the season), it would take a monster year for this to actually happen, but let's have some fun anyway.
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