The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on Saturday at the River Ridge Residence Inn in Oxnard, California. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
What does coach Jason Garrett need to do to keep his job after 2019?
Only team owner Jerry Jones knows the answer to this one, but it's clear he has put Garrett on notice, since the coach is entering the season without a contract extension despite coming off a playoff season. The Cowboys have made the playoffs three times under Garrett and have lost in the divisional round each time -- including 2016, when they had home-field advantage. It would seem Garrett has to advance to at least the NFC Championship Game to get a third deal as Cowboys head coach. The Cowboys have not played in the conference title game since 1995. Only the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins have a longer drought in the NFC. Jones believes he has a roster ready to win now with a young and deep team. If Garrett doesn't get it done this season, Jones will be on the lookout for the eighth head coach of his ownership tenure.
How can the Cowboys get back to a Super Bowl with Dak Prescott at quarterback?
The Cowboys' formula for success does not revolve completely around Prescott. They will rely on Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line to keep Prescott in positive situations. The Cowboys will not need -- or ask -- Prescott to throw for 5,000 yards or 35 touchdowns. They will ask him to make plays at winning time, which he has done a good job of in his first three seasons. Prescott had a tremendous offseason, growing as a passer and decision-maker, but he needs to be able to carry that into the regular season. As good as Elliott has been, with two rushing titles in his three seasons, opposing defenses will still try to make Prescott beat them with his arm -- especially in the playoffs. Prescott's playoff numbers are solid, but he will have to take another step in the postseason.
Will Kellen Moore, a rookie coordinator, improve this offense?
The short answer is yes. Some of it will have to do with the talent Moore inherits. The Cowboys have three Pro Bowl offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), a Pro Bowl runner (Elliott), a Pro Bowl receiver (Amari Cooper) and a Pro Bowl quarterback (Prescott), not to mention the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards at tight end (Jason Witten). Some of it will have to do with the newness. There is no book on Moore yet. Defenses will not know his tendencies, which will be similar to Garrett's first year as coordinator in 2007 when the offense was highly successful. And some of it will have to do with Moore's youth. He knows the system Garrett wants to run and can add pieces to the puzzle with play-action, motions, shifts and personnel groupings while incorporating some of the new-age concepts seen elsewhere in the league.
How much does Witten have left?
It's easy to dismiss Witten's return as some sort of ho-hum piece to the offense, but it should be pointed out that he was added to the Pro Bowl as a first alternate in his final season. He still had 63 catches. Though he will not come close to his career-high numbers, he still can be a factor on third down, block well enough on the edge and be a red zone target. Teammates raved out how fast he looked in the offseason program. He averaged just 8.9 yards per catch in 2017, but some of that was a product of the routes he was asked to run. If the Cowboys commit to more play-action, Witten can make more plays down the field, but his biggest impact will continue to come on third down with his work underneath.
How will pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence respond after getting paid?
Teams might have concerns about how a player reacts to a big payday, but the Cowboys do not have such a worry with Lawrence -- and some of that has to do with how he dealt with the 2018 season. After a breakout 14.5-sack season in 2017, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Lawrence at a cost of $17.1 million. He signed the tag while knowing he had to produce again to secure the long contract. He had 10.5 sacks and led the Cowboys with 12 tackles for loss. Not long after signing a $105 million contract extension, he had shoulder surgery that will limit his work in training camp, but the Cowboys believe he will be ready to go for the season opener. Not only that, they believe his work ethic and mission remain the same: Prove to people he is among the premier pass-rushers in the NFL.