It’s a numbers game building an NFL roster. With only 53 available spots in the regular season, teams have to make some hard decisions. That means that when you add new talent through the draft or free agency, you often have to part ways with players. For the Dallas Cowboys, one obvious need this year (as it has been for some time now) is to find a better pass rusher or two. But the team has a pretty large group of players already under contract, with only one of their defensive linemen from 2016 entering free agency. Simply put, something has to give.
Here are the defensive linemen who played for Dallas during the past season, with some notes on their status or value:
- Maliek Collins - He became a starter as a rookie and performed well, with five sacks. Given his excellent debut season, he will certainly be retained.
- Jack Crawford - He is one of the two unrestricted free agent in the group, but is a favorite of the staff for his versatility and effort. He had three sacks, and the team may try to get him signed to a new deal before he hits free agency. There has been at least one report that another team is interested in him.
- Tyrone Crawford - Has the most expensive contract of any defensive lineman, but only had 4.5 sacks. As a post June 1 cut, he would create $7.25 million in cap savings, with a $3.1 million dead money hit.
- Randy Gregory - A non-factor this season due to his suspension, unless something happens to make him available, such as a significant change in the marijuana policy. Don’t hold your breath.
- David Irving - He had four sacks, and a couple of truly dominant games. But he also was not consistent. The team seems to believe he has a lot of potential for the future, and he also has good position flexibility.
- DeMarcus Lawrence - His career has been disappointing, mainly due to injury issues. He only contributed one sack all year.
- Benson Mayowa - The team leader with six sacks. He seems to be a good LDE, but not quite what they seek as an RDE.
- Terrell McClain - He was mostly healthy last season, and chipped in a respectable 2.5 sacks from his DT position. He and Collins were arguably the best pair of DTs the team could field. But he is also the second free agent among this group, and there may be a price consideration involved.
- Cedric Thornton - He was not quite as good as the team had hoped, but hardly a bust. 1.5 sacks, and his 21 total tackles led the defensive line, showing his value in the run game.
That’s nine players already, eight when you discount Gregory, and the team will also be looking at Charles Tapper, who is reportedly coming back from the back problem that was discovered in training camp. The team has a possible sleeper in Zach Wood as well, who is currently signed to a futures contract.
If the team takes one or even two defensive linemen in the draft, or adds someone through free agency, somebody has to go. Who are the most likely candidates?
Tyrone Crawford may be a real consideration, because of those cap numbers combined with his lack of production. Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain might be allowed to go in free agency, just because of the numbers game. The team seems to like both of them, however, and may want to attempt to keep one or both. But the player who may really have become expendable is Lawrence. He has never lived up to the expectations for him. Almost all the other players contributed more last season. It is always tough to let a player go when injuries seem to play a major role in holding him back, but the Cowboys have to take some meaningful steps to get more pressure on the opposing quarterback, and Lawrence simply doesn’t represent much there at all. There is certainly reason to question whether he still has any real upside to make retaining him worth it. It may simply be time to give up and move on.
This will be driven by how successful the Cowboys are in finding defensive linemen in the draft, but this is a talent-rich class at defensive end, and it will be extremely disappointing if Dallas does not find a promising rookie. All indications are that the team is committed to getting that done. That will mean there has to be a roster spot for him, pushing a veteran off the roster. Of course, things may change a lot once the team gets to training camp and sees the players in action. Remember as well that Gregory does not count against the roster while suspended.
Who do you think is most likely to be gone? It may be more than one. Let us know in the comments.