With Kellen Moore headed to Chargers, what’s next for Cowboys?
The expectation in Dallas has been clearly set, if Kellen Moore is any kind of guidepost.
The Cowboys parted ways with their fourth-year offensive coordinator on Sunday, bringing an end to several days of speculation about Moore’s future. The announcement came in the middle of the NFL’s conference championship games, assuring that the Cowboys would be a topic of conversation on a day they haven’t been a part of in 27 years — about as hilariously on-brand a decision as possible.
Officially, the decision was mutual. For that matter, Moore has reportedly already agreed to take the same job with the Los Angeles Chargers. For the 34-year-old to be scooped up by a fellow playoff contender with a Pro Bowl quarterback speaks volumes about what the league thinks of him.
Despite that, there doesn’t appear to be any bad blood here. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy praised Moore in a statement for his role in developing Dak Prescott. “The production of our offense and his mentorship of Dak were at the center of Kellen’s impact, and we are grateful for his tenure and leadership,” McCarthy said.
Looking past the hollow back-patting that happens in official team statements, though, it’s easy to see a dividing line that led to Moore’s departure. Simply put, the Cowboys’ playoff production hasn’t matched what we had grown accustomed to seeing during the regular season.
Those regular-season numbers are impressive. Across four seasons with Moore as the play caller, the Cowboys topped the league in scoring twice. Collectively, they were the No. 2 offense in the NFL in both yards and scoring from 2019-22 — and that’s including two seasons when Prescott missed large chunks of time due to injury.
But even with an explosive wild-card performance in Tampa this season, the postseason results didn’t match up. The Cowboys were held to an embarrassing 307 yards and 17 points in last year’s playoff loss to San Francisco. This year’s divisional round exit might’ve been worse, with the 49ers holding them to 282 yards and just 12 points — and grabbing two interceptions of Dak Prescott for good measure.
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Speaking of Prescott, it also bears mentioning that the Cowboys’ starting quarterback threw 17 interceptions this season, despite playing in just 14 games because of a thumb injury. Maybe that falls on Moore and maybe it doesn’t, but it’s obviously easier to replace a coordinator than a quarterback who will hit the team’s salary cap for roughly $50 million this year.
The conclusion is obvious: the Cowboys don’t care about regular-season success if this is going to be the result. And while that’s a perfectly admirable sentiment, it takes on an added layer of significance after a report from The Dallas Morning News that Moore’s replacement as play caller will be none other than McCarthy himself.
Obviously, it’s not an unfamiliar role. McCarthy called the plays for the vast majority of his 13 years in Green Bay, overseeing multiple top-five offenses — not to mention the group that won Super Bowl XLV in Arlington.
Still, this situation feels a bit more complicated than plugging an experienced play caller into a vacancy. For starters, McCarthy hasn’t done the job for several years, as he ceded the role to Moore when he was hired back in 2020. He will also be Prescott’s first new play caller since 2019, when Moore took over for Scott Linehan.
On top of that, McCarthy will still need an offensive coordinator to help him install the offense, put gameplans together and run the team’s practices. The early indication is that the Cowboys will look outside for candidates, but there’s also at least one internal option. Former Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer currently works in Dallas as an analyst.
Finally, there’s one last layer worth examining, and that’s the implication. Moore is no longer with the Cowboys, and it feels fair to say a lack of postseason success is the main reason. McCarthy is entering the fourth season of a five-year contract, and he’s adding play calling to his plate.
The expectation seems clear, and it’s that McCarthy will be able to use his play-calling experience and acumen to produce a better result. If he can’t, is there any chance he becomes the organization’s scape goat at this time next year?
It feels like a reasonable guess. As much good as McCarthy has done reaching the postseason in back-to-back years, it all feels hollow when you haven’t advanced to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season. Add in the part where a division rival like Philadelphia just advanced to its second Super Bowl in the last five years, and there should be some urgency.
Perhaps that starts right now. It could certainly be described as an urgent move to part ways with one of the league’s most successful offensive coaches, a guy who has interviewed for half a dozen head coaching vacancies these past few years, and a guy who will now be coaching Justin Herbert.
How well it works out will depend heavily on McCarthy, though. It’s on him to hire a worthy successor, and it will apparently be on him to call a better offense — understanding all the while that the regular season is irrelevant.
Who can say if it will work, but it will certainly add intrigue. That’s the Cowboys way.
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. 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. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.
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