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Rebuilding The Cowboys' Defensive Line

The first (and probably second and third) roster priority for Dallas this offseason is going to be rebuilding the defensive line. And it is going to be a huge job, given how bare the cupboard is for the team.

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Nick Hayden - played more downs than any other Cowboys defensive lineman.
Nick Hayden - played more downs than any other Cowboys defensive lineman.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We are all waiting to see what Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett are going to do about the defensive coordinator job for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. Will Monte Kiffin remain? Will Rod Marinelli take over?

Whoever winds up with the job has an enormous task ahead. The linebacker and secondary units have some questions to answer, but at least there is some hope with the players currently available (and expected to be healthy, like Sean Lee). But the defensive line is somewhere between a shambles and an absolute train wreck. Or worse. You all know it is bad, but a look at what the team actually has to work with before free agency and the draft is downright depressing.

Here is a look at the current defensive line players who are on the Cowboys' roster at the moment, with the snap count and grades from Pro Football Focus.

Player Snaps Played Overall Grade Run Def Pass Def Pass Cov Penalty
Nick Hayden 843 -27.4 -15.5 -12.5 0.5 0.1
Jason Hatcher 773 27.3 -1.2 26.9 0.5 1.1
George Selvie 761 -0.4 6.6 -7.4 1.0 -0.6
DeMarcus Ware 648 12.6 8.0 2.7 2.0 -0.1
Jarius Wynn 280 -10.6 -3.9 -5.0 0.0 -1.7
Everette Brown 159 -2.7 -4.1 0.7 0.0 0.7
Caesar Rayford 147 -6.2 -1.2 -4.1 -0.5 -0.4
Corvey Irvin 119 -6.2 -4.7 -1.1 0.0 -0.4
Edgar Jones 74 -0.4 6.6 -7.4 1.0 -0.6
Anthony Spencer 38 -0.9 -0.6 -1.0 0.5 0.2
Martez Wilson 36 -0.5 -0.5 -0.2 0.0 0.2
Frank Kearse 35 -1.3 -1.4 -0.1 0.0 0.2
Ben Bass IR - - - - -
Tyrone Crawford IR - - - - -

I've put Hatcher and Spencer in italics because there is a great likelihood they will be gone due to cap cost issues. Ware is also italicized because his future has some uncertainty to it. Take them out, and this is not exactly a talent-laden bunch of names to start building the defensive line roster.

It is likely that several of the other names are going to be released. Just as my best guess, I think that the players who are definitely still going to be around with the team for OTAs are Bass, Crawford, Selvie, Hayden, and Rayford (who was signed to a futures contract). Outside of that , everyone else is a maybe, at best. However, the team may bring several of these names back because they saw something in practice. There just wasn't much to be seen on the field.

There is a school of thought that NFL teams should not draft for need. If ever there was an argument for playing hooky from that school, it is this chart. The need on the defensive line is potentially crippling if it is not addressed.

Free agency is going to be of limited help here, unless Stephen Jones has some incredible magic to use. There is not going to be enough cap space to get significant help here. That means the draft will be pretty crucial and this is one time when quantity should be emphasized over quality. In other words, do not give up picks to move up. Dallas needs to get a lot of defensive linemen in hopes of finding enough to get the job done. A good trade down would be more likely to help the team, since there does appear to be a good bit of talent in the mid-round range. It is still early (and of course the draft sites are not necessarily correct in their evaluations), but Drafttek, for instance, shows nine 4-3 defensive ends with second- through fourth-round grades, and the same number of tackles (stretching just a couple of places for the fourth). If Jerry Jones was offered something that would get him extra picks in those rounds, it would probably be wise to take the deal, depending on what they passed up to move down, of course.

I think this is one of the reasons that the Cowboys were serious about hanging on to Rod Marinelli. They do not only need to bring in some good defensive line talent. They need someone who can make the most out of the players they do get. And Marinelli is one of the best there is at that.

The Cowboys have other holes, of course, but these are the ones that are the biggest problem. Keep that in mind as you scout the college ranks and put together those mocks.

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