Dak Prescott will dominate Dallas Cowboys headlines this offseason, predictably so, until/unless he and the team finally agree to terms on a multi-year extension, but that's far from the only important task on tap for the club in 2021. They've already made one major decision in firing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after just one season and replacing him with Dan Quinn and, in doing so, created an expected shuffle in the defensive staff beneath him -- something that could impact the standing of veteran defensive lineman Gerald McCoy heading into free agency.
With Quinn comes a new (read: reverted and revised) outlook for the defensive scheme, as well as who'll be signed, re-signed or passed on altogether, begging the question of where McCoy stands currently. The front office is still very interested in seeing him return for a mulligan, as they've referenced a time or two, but sources tell CBS Sports they'll put a pin in that discussion for the moment, while they mesh out what Quinn wants to see done on the defensive depth chart. This isn't to say McCoy might not return to the Cowboys because there's a solid chance he will, but there's not only Quinn's opinion/assessment to take into account here, but also newly-hired defensive line coach Aden Durde.
New voices are in the room and they'll be heard, as the Cowboys tread forward hoping to revamp their historically bad defense.
McCoy signed a three-year, $18.4 million contract with the Cowboys in 2020, but never played a single snap for them, having gone down in mid-August with a torn quadriceps in practice that required surgery to repair. Things got a bit weird from there, with head coach Mike McCarthy promising McCoy would be around to help develop the younger group of linemen before the All-Pro was swiftly released after the team opted to pull the trigger on an injury clause in his contract. They'd pay him the $3 million signing bonus but saved roughly $3.25 million toward the 2020 salary cap, funds that add to the team's squirreling away of money to rollover to their 2021 salary cap to aid in talks with Prescott.
McCoy didn't accept a defeatist mindset about it though, instead promising to tutor the Cowboys linemen from outside the building.
Gerald McCoy speaks from his hospital bed after season-ending surgery and news of his release — with a promise to continue mentoring the young #Cowboys pass rushers.— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) August 19, 2020
This is what strength of self looks like.
[🎥: IG - @Geraldini93] pic.twitter.com/1HsXTQdrz7
Those same sources note McCoy hasn't suffered any setbacks in his recovery, putting him on track to possibly be ready for the beginning of offseason conditioning, or not long thereafter. And when discussing reasons for optimism in the 2021 reboot in Dallas, team exec Stephen Jones specifically not only included McCoy, but he did so rather definitively.
"We obviously got a good group of guys on IR that we expect to make full recoveries next year that should make us a lot better football team," he told 105.3FM the Fan in December. "You talk about our two [starting] tackles, La'el [Collins] and Tyron [Smith]. You talk about [Dak Prescott].
"You talk about two of your better defensive tackles in Trysten [Hill] and [Gerald] McCoy. There's some opportunities out there that are going to return to us that should be a big help to us."
That bodes well for McCoy's chances in Dallas, but there are also obvious concerns Quinn and Durde (neither having been on-staff when Jones made the proclamation) will voice that must be a part of the dialogue. For not only is the six-time Pro Bowler set to turn 33 before free agency arrives, his age factoring into if he'll be able to recover fully from the aforementioned torn quad, and clearly the Cowboys had pre-existing concerns about it potentially being an issue -- so much so they included contract language specific to it that protected them in the event of injury.
That turned out to be a wise move by the team, and a renewal of vows with McCoy would undoubtedly include a copy and paste of that clause, and potentially a shortened deal from the initial three-year agreement.
That said, McCoy could still bring strong value to a front that clearly needs assistance on the defensive interior. This is particularly true when assessing the situation at 3-tech (right of center), seeing as Tyrone Crawford is mulling retirement -- separate sources confirm to CBS Sports -- after also undergoing surgery ahead of free agency. There was impressive progress made at the position by rookie third-round pick Neville Gallimore on the back end of the season, but he wasn't unleashed until after former second-round pick Trysten Hill went down with a season-ending torn ACL in October, and the latter is simply another reason to keep McCoy on the radar for a second straight year.
There's also the matter of what he brings to the locker room and field from a football IQ standpoint, something players like Gallimore, Hill and [ahem] rookie fifth-round pick Bradlee Anae could certainly benefit from studying. There are still some decisions the Cowboys need to make in finalizing its defensive coaching staff -- namely at linebackers coach (Scott McCurley) and if they'll keep longtime assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett onboard -- before they can begin piecing together their free agency and draft plans for 2021, but McCoy has an inside track to getting another shot in Dallas.
And they must also determine, if they bring him back, what his role will be. They'll need his impact, but not at the expense of Gallimore, Hill and possibly Anae, so snap count is a topic as well, and especially for someone on the wrong side of 30 who'll need to closely monitor his surgically repaired quad.
Considering McCoy would also plug right into Quinn's 40 front (4-3) scheme though, it stands to reason the newly-hired defensive coordinator would be interested in following through with the Joneses' plan a player who's only one season removed from having six sacks and who's tallied a combined 17 sacks in his three seasons prior to 2020, and one who Quinn was often forced to scheme for from their shared several years in the NFC South as rivals.
But it also makes sense he'd want some questions answered first.