The Cowboys have been dormant when it comes to acquiring a free agent pass rusher this offseason and that has a lot of fans worried. Pressuring the quarterback and improving the defenses ability to get turnovers is a huge problem for this team. Everyone knows that. And as GI Joe used to say - knowing is half the battle. Okay, so maybe GI Joe isn't the most authoritative voice when it comes to NFL advice, so let's go with someone a little more experienced. In a recent chat sessions, Babe Laufenberg pointed out one of Bill Parcells sayings, "Just because you can identify the problem, doesn't mean you can solve it."
And here lies the Cowboys problem. They need some good quality rushers on the defensive line, but it's been hard for them to acquire them. Let's look at the work they've done around the edge these last couple years:
Free Agency - lost DeMarcus Ware and signed Jeremy Mincey.
Draft - selected DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round (traded up to get him).
Despite the loss of DeMarcus Ware in 2014, the Cowboys did a good job finding viable contributors along the defensive line. Mincey led the team in sacks and the rookie, Lawrence really started making an impact late in the season. Of course, the defense was aided by a couple key factors. First, they weren't on the field a lot. The Cowboys offense was outstanding at controlling the clock. And second, their opponents had to play from behind. Again, with an offense as productive as the Cowboys were that season, it put pressure on their opponents to try to keep up and take more chances. This provided the defense with many more opportunity to take the ball away.
Free Agency - signed Greg Hardy
Draft - selected Randy Gregory in the second round and Ryan Russell in the fifth round.
Even with an improved season for the defense the previous year, the loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game served as a reminder than more help was needed. The Cowboys got a whiff of something great so they decided to take some chances on a couple wild card pass rushers. Greg Hardy was signed and Randy Gregory was drafted. Both of these moves were heavily scrutinized because of the character issues with these players. Hardy was suspended and Gregory got hurt so they both ended up missing the first part of the season. But even when they played, neither made the impact fans were hoping. Hardy was a little underwhelming. He was brought in to be a powerful disruptor on the field, but his play at times was uninspiring. Gregory, just never was able to get himself into a rhythm and had trouble earning snaps. To further complicate things, he failed another drug test and will miss the first four games of the 2016 season.
Free Agency - offer to Benson Mayowa.
The Cowboys haven't been able to sign any of the top free agent defensive ends, so what do they do? Go out and grab some obscure player nobody has heard of. Dallas has offered restricted free agent, Benson Mayowa, a three-year deal. The Oakland Raiders have five days to match it.
Is this the best they can do?
I have heard some people proclaim that the Cowboys need to give serious consideration to re-signing Greg Hardy. If he's already shown he wasn't worth his price as well as being an issue in the locker room, why would it be sensible to go down that path again? Desperate times call for desperate measures, but acting in desperation is a recipe for losing football games. The Cowboys need to remain as cool as a summer breeze and just focus on doing things right, even if it doesn't produce the best results right away.
Right now, the Cowboys have DeMarcus Lawrence. He continues to improve. They also have second-year players, Randy Gregory and Ryan Russell. Some may have discounted their optimism for these two pass rushers for different reasons. Gregory is one slip up from missing out on a year of football. Russell, only played 33 snaps last season and was essentially invisible. While neither of these players are anything to get real excited about right now, that could all change this season. Gregory has a big decision to make. Is he going to get his act together and play with a purpose or is he going to just waste away a potential prosperous NFL career? Russell has continued to work. While fans may have tempered their expectations, he certainly hasn't.
I know what I can do. I'm better in every way. Can't wait to show just how much I have developed. @dallascowboys— Ryan Keith Russell (@RKRelentless) March 17, 2016
And the Cowboys might not be done in free agency. They can still try to find a low-cost, Jeremy Mincey-type player to help bridge these young players. A good candidate for that might be none other than...Jeremy Mincey.
And then there's the draft. When it comes to snagging a legitimate pass rusher, some people view it as "Bosa or Bust." The Ohio State defensive end, Joey Bosa, is a potential candidate for the number four pick, but the Cowboys will only go after him if he's their top guy. This won't be a position-need pick. The Cowboys have needed a star pass rusher for the previous two drafts, but haven't forced the issue by spending a first-round pick on the position. Instead, they stuck to their board and took the most talented football players. Expect more of the same this year.
If the Cowboys don't select Bosa with the fourth pick, they could very likely resort to their recent trend of taking a defensive end in round two. There could be some good choices still sitting there at pick 34:
- Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
- Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
- Kevin Dodd, Clemson
This draft class doesn't offer much in the way of spectacular pass rush players, but it offers up late first-round grade players who have starting ability and be a key rotational player for Rod Marinelli. None of these guys are likely to make a big splash their rookie season, but that pretty much goes for any first-year defensive end. History has shown that it's just not going to happen. Whether you are pick #1 (Jadeveon Clowney, 4.5 sacks in 17 career games) or pick #38 (Preston Smith, 8 sacks last year - led all rookies), it's hard to expect a rookie to come in and make an immediate impact.
The Cowboys can't fix all their problems in just a matter of a couple swift moves. They tried that approach in 2012 when they doubled-down with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. That didn't work.
The Cowboys need to continue to allocate resources at this position, but they need to go about it the right way and bring in the type of guys they want on the line. With the improvement of some of the team's younger players, another draft to grab more talent, and a healthier offense that can alleviate some of the pressure on the defense - the Cowboys can take a step forward without forcing any ill-advised moves.