The Dallas Cowboys did the one thing they had to do this offseason -- sign quarterback Dak Prescott to a long-term contract. That they got taken to the cleaners because of their own mistakes the two years prior is neither here nor there. They needed to lock Prescott up and they did.
Unfortunately, that's about all the Cowboys have done. They're strapped in the salary cap department. That means they've had to sign the dregs of free agency. Some potential contributors (most notably Keanu Neal) to be fair, but nothing that moves the needle. Still, Dallas believes it's the favorite to win the East and so do oddsmakers. But there's another team in the division making waves.
The Washington Football Team upgraded at quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick), brought in arguably the second-best free agent wide receiver on the market (Curtis Samuel) and are currently trying to sign standout slot receiver Adam Humphries in free agency. Add that trio to an offense already featuring emerging star WR Terry McLaurin and versatile, young running back Antonio Gibson and you have the makings of something special.
Even scarier for a team like Dallas that hangs its hat on offense, Washington's defense was dominant in 2020 and should be even better in 2021. Chase Young was an All-Pro as a rookie. Montez Sweat had 9.5 sacks last season. Former Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan is a free agent, but Washington hopes to re-sign him. That pass rush is one of the best in the league. It's also perfectly built to counteract what the Cowboys want to do: throw the ball to their three stud receivers.
There is, of course, more to it than that. Ezekiel Elliott is coming off a down year and it's unclear if he'll ever regain Pro-Bowl form. The Cowboys' offensive line should be healthier this season, but All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith hasn't played a full season in five years and All-Pro guard Zach Martin has missed time in two of the last three seasons. Can the Cowboys really rely on them to stay healthy? Could their backups hold up against Washington's stout pass rush? The answer to both of those questions is likely no.
For Cowboys fans, success rests on their offense scoring points, because their defense won't magically improve. They gave up nearly 30 points and 400 yards per game in 2020. Neal is a nice signing. Defensive linemen Tarell Basham, Carlos Watkins and Brent Urban could help too. But they're not transforming that defense into a juggernaut. So that puts the pressure on Prescott, Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup to score. A lot. They will do that, but against a defense like Washington's, it won't come easy.
Washington has revamped the area it needed to improve on this offseason. Fitzpatrick, while old and turnover-prone, has proven capable of scoring points and authoring incredible comebacks. Samuel is dangerous in the open field. McLaurin might be an All-Pro this year. Gibson accumulated over 1,000 yards of offense in his rookie season despite starting only 10 games. That's a dangerous group. So is the defense. Dallas beware.