Pass rusher was a hot commodity in free agency and that became evident with all the money that was thrown at the likes of Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Mario Williams, Malik Jackson and a slew of others. The Cowboys have found a sparse cupboard in terms of veterans out there that can come in and be difference makers. In fact, the only premier pass rusher still available is Greg Hardy and his current unemployment comes as no surprise to anyone. In essence, it seems as though the Cowboys are going to have to find strength in numbers this offseason.
This is nothing new for a Rod Marinelli-led defense, his defensive line can function when there is quality throughout that can keep coming with the pressure and never let up. In today's NFL, you can never have enough qualified pass rushers. It's a league where getting to the quarterback trumps everything else. As we look at the defensive line right now, what may be considered a slight problem is actually an epidemic.
DeMarcus Lawrence, the closest thing this team has to a polished pass rusher, is also coming off herniated disk surgery. Randy Gregory will be able to participate in the offseason program including preseason but will serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy. It's also important to note that Gregory is one hiccup away from a ten-game ban. Cedric Thornton was signed to take over the duties at nose tackle with Tyrone Crawford assuming his role at the penetrating under tackle, also coming off offseason surgery. Behind them are David Irving and Ryan Russell.
The depth chart will look a little better if the Cowboys are able to work out a deal to retain Jack Crawford and beat out the Raiders for restricted free agent Benson Mayowa, but those aren't sure bets yet. So, it looks like the Cowboys still have plenty of work ahead of them. What it's going to take is a macro approach to bringing in multiple types of pass rushers to get the job done.
The Cowboys have one of the least impressive pass rushing units as we speak, with only 31 sacks last season ranking them 25th in the league. Sacks aren't everything though as the Cowboys have been able to generate pressure, they just need to start getting home. That will require an aggressive approach for the remainder of the offseason. An approach that I'm certain the Cowboys are well aware of and are in the process of sifting through right now. So, what can they do? Does this mean they have to draft a pass rusher at four?
Sure, you could argue that pass rusher is their most important need at the moment. However, all of the things that we've discussed on rookie pass rushers would suggest otherwise. There hasn't been a rookie pass rusher to hit 10+ sacks since 2011 and this year's class is not likely to buck that trend. I would venture to say that the need for pass rusher doesn't mean you have to go there at four, but that would likely mean a look that way with the 34th pick. That way the Cowboys could go for impact with the fourth pick and still get a pass rusher in the second round. Here are a couple second round options to keep an eye on, remember that the second round has been their pass rusher round in the last two drafts:
DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson: He finished the year with a whopping 23 tackles for loss and 12 sacks and shows his explosiveness right off the bat. Like many rushers in this draft, he lacks the quick-twitch but does have impressive power and speed to win the edge with regularity. He has the ability to make himself skinny to penetrate gaps. He improved every year and is a very intelligent player but will still need development to reach his full potential.
DE Jonathan Bullard, Florida: Considered more of a run-stuffer at this point, Bullard uses his immense power to bull-rush blockers. He's very powerful and does have a good first step but still needs pass rush development. He uses his long arms to get into passing lanes and disrupt the quarterback. He's a very good learner and seems to put what he learns to work with ease. A great motor on this kid too and he has the vision, strength, and awareness to become a special rusher at the NFL level.
It won't be enough to draft pass rushers and I fully expect them to draft several. The Cowboys still need to peruse that dwindling free agent market. Other than the obvious attempts to get Jack Crawford back, here are a couple more guys that could garner attention:
DE Billy Winn, Colts: There was a little buzz about him coming out of the draft. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as he fell to the sixth round. He may need a change of scenery. He's got some versatility and size but is more of a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Still, the Cowboys need depth and he could fill a role as a run-stuffer that can give them push in the middle if need be.
DE Jeremy Mincey: Everyone is well aware of Mr. Mince, but now the Cowboys may be forced to go his direction again. His production tailed off in 2015 as did his playing time. Mincey is a solid locker room guy and has shown his leadership time and time again. He's only one season removed from leading the team in sacks. Dallas would be wise to flirt with bringing him back.
DE Mike DeVito: Like Mincey, DeVito is a little older at 31, but he told the local media in Kansas City that he plans to continue his career. He still has value as well as a run-stuffer but had his highest number of sacks last season with three. If he's placed in the right situation, he could be a really good presence for the Cowboys defense. He's stout at the point of attack and still has plenty left to give. The Chiefs have an interest in bringing him back but it is worth the look for a team that needs numbers.
There is strength in numbers, especially in this 4-3 alignment, and Dallas is going to need to stack the deck this offseason.