With owner and general manager Jerry Jones bringing McCarthy back for a fifth season, the head coach might not have to put much thought into the 2024 theme.
How does “All or Nothing” sound?
McCarthy signed a five-year deal with the Cowboys in 2020, and there was no word of any kind of extension being agreed to when the coach met with Jones on Wednesday.
Add in that quarterback Dak Prescott also will be entering the final year of his contract with the Cowboys, and it is shaping up as, well, all or nothing.
The Cowboys have time to work on a Prescott extension between now and the start of the season, but he is set to count $59.4 million against the salary cap. Without an extension or the addition of voidable years to Prescott’s contract, it would be difficult for the Cowboys to add free agents or retain their own key players. But Prescott has gone eight years as the starter and has a 2-5 postseason record without an appearance in a conference title game.
The Cowboys would have to weigh the importance of signing him to a deal that would make him among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the game — in the $50 million-a-year neighborhood — without proven playoff success, while also knowing they cannot place the franchise tag on him in 2025.
There are other questions to consider with McCarthy returning:
Why keep McCarthy?
He has a 42-25 record. He has won two NFC East titles in the past three seasons. With McCarthy calling plays this season for the first time in his tenure with the Cowboys, Prescott responded with his best campaign, leading the NFL in touchdown passes (36) a year after he tied for the lead in interceptions (15) despite missing five games with a broken thumb.
The Cowboys have made the playoffs in three straight seasons, which they hadn’t done since a six-year run from 1991 to 1996 that included wins in Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII and XXX. McCarthy became the first coach in team history to post three straight 12-win seasons, though some of that is due to playing a 17-game schedule. With McCarthy as the playcaller in 2023, the Cowboys finished No. 1 in points per game (29.9) and No. 5 in yards (371.6).
Ultimately, however, McCarthy will be judged on his postseason success. So far, he has lost in the first round of the playoffs twice — both at AT&T Stadium — including Sunday’s 48-32 embarrassment against the Green Bay Packers.
Was there any consideration to making a change?
If there was, it was kept quiet. Jones could have made overtures to Bill Belichick, who won six Super Bowls before parting ways with the New England Patriotsor Jim Harbaugh, who just won a national championship at Michigan and previously took the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl. Former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel could have been another option to consider.
As much as Jones is considered impulsive and a risk-taker, he has not made a major move since trading up in the first round to take cornerback Morris Claiborne and signing cornerback Brandon Carr to a massive deal in free agency in 2012.
Jones turns 82 next season. He wants to win another championship. Thinking he would have made a play for an up-and-coming offensive coach, such as Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson or Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, would be a stretch. He can’t wait for a young coach to learn the ropes. He did that with Jason Garrett.
What about the rest of the coaching staff?
Dan Quinn is interviewing with five teams (Carolina Panthers, Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks) regarding head-coaching vacancies, so the Cowboys could be looking for a defensive coordinator in a matter of days or weeks.
Do the Cowboys have somebody on staff ready to become the coordinator, such as Joe Whitt Jr., who has been the defensive passing game coordinator since 2020, or defensive line coach Aden Durde or secondary coach Al Harris?
Could an outside coordinator be an option, such as Wink Martindale, who spent the past two seasons with the New York Giants?
The only other position coach who is unsigned is wide receivers coach Robert Prince. Every other position coach is signed through 2024, which matched up with McCarthy’s original deal.
Another sign that 2024 is all or nothing.