Ever since 2013, when the Dallas Cowboys brought in defensive coaching legend Monte Kiffin to oversee their switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, the team has been in search of one elusive element, a starting caliber, 1-technique defensive tackle. Through one year under Kiffin and two under replacement Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys have tried in vain to find a run-stuffing, double-team eating, man-mountain to pair with 3-technique tackle Tyrone Crawford in their interior defensive front. Now with the offseason once again upon us, the Dallas front office will once again hope to address the future of the position through the draft. But as a team with aspirations of returning to the NFL playoffs, the Cowboys should also consider making a play for 1-tech through free agency.
If you aren't quite up to speed on the differences in a 1-technique, 3-technique, or even a 5-technique defensive tackle, our own Joey Ickes laid it all out for you in this post from September of 2013. Now that you are up to speed, let me introduce you to Kansas City Chiefs free agent defensive tackle Jaye Howard. At 6' 3" and 302 lbs., Howard possesses the ideal size for a 1-tech in Marinelli's scheme. The job for the 1-tech in Dallas' defense is to stuff the run and occupy multiple blockers on passing downs. Howard is coming from a 3-4 defensive front in Kansas City in which he was the primary backup to Dontari Poe and an integral part of the rotation at defensive end. For the Cowboys he would immediately step into a starting role.
Howard was a fourth-round selection by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 draft but appeared in only two games for the 'Hawks and was waived before the 2013 season. He signed with Chiefs and has been a steadily improving player ever since. Howard has appeared in every game for KC over the last two seasons, and has become a force in the middle for one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL. In January, Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com had this to say in his assessment of Howard's free agent prospects:
Howard brings the unique ability at the position to play run defense and pressure the quarterback. That's allowed Howard to see action on nearly 70% of the team snaps which is a rarity for a position that usually subs players in and out.
This is the type of defensive tackle the Dallas Cowboys need in their lives. Incumbent Nick Hayden is an unrestricted free agent, and the team has long been looking to upgrade. But at what price? Certainly Howard will not be a bargain basement option, but we are talking about a position that is ultimately very important to this defense, and one that has proven to be difficult to fill. Howard is 27 years old and entering the prime of his career. He is looking at what will likely be his most lucrative contract. Most projections have a deal for Howard in the $4-6 million range for four or five years. It may seem on the expensive side, but the Cowboys have had no luck in finding a 1-technique tackle on the cheap. If Jerry ad the boys can lock up the position for the next several years, it would give them the time to find and develop a younger option for the future.
The Cowboys have to address 18 UFAs this offseason. They will also have to sign approximately nine draft picks. Beyond that, they have several team needs that they would love to have cleared up before the draft in April. Running back, backup quarterback, and secondary are all positions that must see an upgrade. But perhaps the most pressing need is along the defensive front. A player like Jaye Howard can solidify the middle for the next several years, and in the process, make life easier for all the players around him. The Cowboys have been hoping to find their space-eater in the middle for some time now, Jaye Howard might just be the 1-technique tackle the Dallas Cowboys have been looking for.