It's been a rough time for the Dallas Cowboys and their defensive ends. The team has parted ways with Greg Hardy, and that looks to be pretty much irrevocable. Randy Gregory received a four game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, and on Wednesday we found out that DeMarcus Lawrence is also facing the same penalty, pending appeal. For a team that had consistent problems generating a pass rush during the Great Debacle of 2015, that is a depressing state of events. And while defensive end is certainly expected to be addressed at some point during the draft, rookies seldom make much of an impact. Additionally, this is not seen to be a very strong class for pass rushing ends.
So what will the Cowboys do? Obviously, they still have to field a team. While they will certainly be looking for any possible help in free agency between now and the start of the season, the pickings have become pretty slim there. To some extent, they are going to have to roll with some of the players they already have.
With all the doom and gloom, it seemed appropriate to look at the current players on the roster, minus Gregory and Lawrence, to get some idea of what they have to work with. This chart shows how those resources might be used, although as will be discussed later, the positions designated here are certainly subject to some movement.
|LDE||Benson Mayowa||David Irving|
|1 Tech||Terrell McClain||Cedric Thornton, Casey Walker|
|3 Tech||Tyrone Crawford||Chris Whaley|
|RDE||Jack Crawford||Ryan Russell, Mike McAdoo|
As was stated, the position assignments are based more upon guesses than a real knowledge of what the team might plan to do with each player. Some of them certainly have position flexibility. There has been talk of kicking Tyrone Crawford out to end, but given his performance inside, the team may be better served using the very athletic Irving outside. Thornton is likely to be used as much at the 3-tech as the 1, and may actually be more at home there. This certainly leaves the team with some really unknown quantities in Walker, Whaley, and McAdoo, but you consider things like Walker's listed weight of 340, and you can see how he might be serviceable as a run-stuffer.
The elephant in the depth chart is the lack of sack production represented here. That is why the loss of Lawrence, who led the team last season with eight, is so galling. But there may be a tiny ray of hope there.
ALERT: I'm told #Cowboys position re Demarcus Lawrence failed test NOT pot but rather amphetamines/meds. Feel good about appeal @1053thefan— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) April 22, 2016
If Lawrence should win his appeal, things would certainly look less dark. But we won't count any of those chickens just yet.
While there is not an overabundance of experience with this group, it is a fairly young one. Thornton and Jack Crawford are the oldest at 27, and Irving is only 22. There is probably some hope on the staff that there will be some growth for many of these players. That may have been one of the factors in not pursuing other free agents that were older and certainly more expensive.
And speaking of the staff, do they see more potential in this group than many of us? That is certainly a suspicion that grows from the approach to the defensive line that the team has taken this offseason. It is a little frightening, but the team also is clearly planning on having a more potent offense with players like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Lance Dunbar returning from injury. And Orlando Scandrick should help provide better coverage downfield than last season, which could make the difference a few times between almost getting to the quarterback and a sack.
Pressure on the quarterback is going to be a concern this year. There is no sugarcoating that fact. But we are going to have to see how this all plays out. The staff certainly made some calculations and decided to take some risks. They are putting some faith, or perhaps hope, in players they have seen like Jack Crawford, Irving, and Whaley. If the scouting staff got it right with Mayowa and Thornton, they could provide some help. One way or another, this is the foundation they are going to build their defensive line from. Hopefully it will not be the wreck so many of us fear.