The Cowboys are full steam ahead to this offseason with an idea that the defense is going to need a lot of attention. They’re absolutely correct but the solution may not be that hard to find. Thankfully, they have a draft class that is loaded at edge rusher and cornerback which will aid in them being able to make a bigger impact in one offseason. Still, on the surface, the Cowboys’ defense didn’t play all that bad in 2016, ranking 14th in the NFL, including first in run defense. Even so, there are still many issues to address and some we haven’t even talked about yet.
Issues like Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence, both players are coming off surgeries to problem areas of the past. Lawrence, who had back surgery following last season, just had the same exact back procedure as J.J. Watt, in the same area as he had that same surgery last offseason. That injury crept up repeatedly in this past season. Tyrone Crawford, who was moved outside by necessity, just had shoulder surgery to repair another torn rotator cuff opposite the shoulder he had repaired last season. Both guys are “expected” to make full recoveries and be available for offseason training activities. Still, those injuries will require lots of monitoring from the training staff and caution as well.
Then you consider things that we have been discussing; whether or not to bring back some of their own free agents. They currently have four defensive backs set to hit the market, two corners, and two safeties. Barry Church or J.J. Wilcox? Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne? These are decisions that will need to be addressed, too. It’s not likely that the Cowboys will retain all four and that’s where weighing the pros and cons of each will come into play. So, that begs the question, how do you build the plan for offseason success on the defensive side? Let’s take a stab at putting together a plan based on what we know about this team.
Disclaimer: The Dallas Cowboys will NOT spend big money on free agents this offseason. Expecting to see something like the Giants did a year ago would be a giant mistake (pun intended). It goes against their entire philosophy and one that is being adopted around the league and perhaps coined by the Patriots. There is always value in players that hit the market but keep in mind that they are depreciated assets much like buying a car. If you came here for a big name, you’ll be disappointed.
- Re-sign Brandon Carr (CB) - He never comes off the field, will be a low-cost option, loves being a Dallas Cowboy. He’s the perfect combination of a guy who has tread left and fights through adversity.
- Re-sign Terrell McClain (DT) - He showed his value when put together with rookie Maliek Collins. He plays with a tremendous amount of tenacity and is still in his 20’s. He’s had issues with injuries before but gives you a solid rotation piece at defensive tackle.
- Re-sign Jack Crawford (DL) - He can play well at any position on the defensive line and will be a low-cost contingency plan.
- Re-sign Barry Church (S) - He’s incredibly smart and knows exactly where to be as well as where everyone else needs to be. He’s a team leader and loves his team; he won’t cost too much and is one of your best tacklers.
- Sign Mario Addison (DE) – He had 9.5 sacks this season and is well regarded as a better rotation player. He’s not a premier pass rusher but he can be an outstanding contributor in the scheme as a role player.
- Sign Dre Kirkpatrick (CB) - Considered a former draft bust but still has high potential and youth on his side. He doesn’t have a large injury history and could be in the price range with tremendous upside.
Disclaimer: We’ll dive much deeper into names later in the offseason as the draft profiles start becoming more plentiful and we have a better idea of who a lot of these players are. Right now, all things are preliminary and we don’t know how these guys will do at the Combine. Instead, we’ll look at a strategy instead.
Though, I actually called for this last season, maybe this is a better year for the Cowboys’ to pay homage to their 2005 selves. That was the year that they were able to significantly upgrade their defense in a single draft.
One step in improving this defense is already in place:
LB Jaylon Smith - If all prognostications are correct and he’s available to begin offseason work; the Cowboys will have an impact player ready to go. It will be as exciting as having two first-round picks.
Dallas should treat this draft as if they don’t have capable starters in Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence as mentioned earlier. Both of those guys are young but this team needs talent at defensive positions and nobody’s role is safe except Sean Lee’s. This is a draft where the Cowboys should double-dip at positions like defensive end and cornerback and really make an impact on their defense for 2017.
As previously discussed, Rod Marinelli needs to speak up when he likes a player in this year’s draft. No more “that player’s nice but I can do a lot with this fifth-round guy.” Again, this team needs talent on defense, not a bunch of try-hard guys with high motors.
Dallas has shown that they will trade their first-round pick, that could come into play for a pass rusher if the front office believes there is a game-changer out there for them. Then again, with the aforementioned depth, they might find a guy they like a lot at 28.
The key thing is to trust in Will McClay and Stephen Jones. They are on a roll, just this past season they drafted the league’s leading rusher, the new standard at rookie quarterback, a penetrating three-tech defensive tackle, and a starting cornerback in the sixth round.
This is an exciting time for fans as we’ll all be scouring over scouting reports and picturing the difference in this team heading into 2017. At this point, there aren’t many better at evaluating talent than Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett, and Will McClay in the NFL.