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A Cowboys’ Offseason Plan, Part 8b: Free Agent Targets For The Cowboys’ Defensive Line

In a ten-part series, we are going to take a comprehensive look at the Cowboys and how they might get better in 2017. This is part eight(b).

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In part one of this 10-part series, we set the ground rules by discussing the Cowboys’ team-building philosophy. In parts two, three, and four, we looked at where the Cowboys are strong, okay, and weak. In part five, we showed how the Cowboys can create cap space to sign in-house and outside free agents. In part six, we divided the Cowboys’ in-house free agents into three piles, likely to keep, possible keepers, and unlikely to keep. In part seven, we looked at the external free agent options on offense. In part eight(a), we talked about outside free agents for the secondary. This article will discuss the defensive line.

What holes does Dallas need to fill with free agents on defense?

Before looking at the free agents available, we need to recall two things. First, let’s revisit the ground rules by which the Cowboys operate. In the first article in this series, we talked about five elements of the Cowboy’s team philosophy. The last three are relevant here.

3. Plug holes through free agency, but don’t break the bank.

4. Go into the draft with holes filled, so you can take the best player available.

5. Stay young. Don’t re-sign any player over 30.

The most important of these is #4 - to use free agency to fill holes so the team can draft the best player available when their turn comes. OCC’s article on Will McClay reaffirms this point.

That leads us to the second point - the fourth article in this series where we identified the Cowboys’ holes. On defense, the Cowboys have two big holes - cornerback and safety. They also need to upgrade the pass rush, but with seven linemen under contract, they could survive by focusing on the draft. As long as Jaylon Smith returns, they are in the best shape at linebacker.

Dallas has plenty of internal options to fill these slots. The question is whether they can A) do better, and/or B) find someone as good on a more affordable deal.

Defensive End (including Outside Linebackers)

The Cowboys already have four or five defensive ends - DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Tyrone Crawford, and Charles Tapper. David Irving can also play DE, and may be at his best there, as he was at the end of the Tampa Bay game last year. If they add another in free agency, who moves inside? Tyrone Crawford? He has health problems as it is, and says playing outside keeps him from getting beaten up so much. Mayowa is too light to play inside, Lawrence should be our best DE, and Charles Tapper was used as a 3-4 DE in college, which negated some of his speed. Despite Jerry Jones talking about a “war daddy” it’s not clear whether Dallas will sign any new edge rusher.

This is especially true if Dallas decides to draft a defensive end with their first round pick, which seems to be where most mocks send them. Drafting a defensive end makes sense because:

  • DeMarcus Lawrence is on the last year of his contract, and his health and suspension issues, and lack of production in 2016 raise questions as to whether Dallas will seek to extend him beyond this season.
  • Tyrone Crawford has a contract that will keep Dallas from cutting him soon, but he doesn’t seem to be the long-term answer.
  • Randy Gregory can’t be counted on to ever play again.
  • Charles Tapper was sidelined by back issues last year and is largely unknown.

With uncertainty down the road, Dallas needs to keep adding linemen in search of ones who can stick. This is best done through the draft.

So, while Dallas may have a potentially crowded situation for 2017, they might suddenly have the kind of holes they have in the secondary if they don’t keep filling. Dallas has also carried 10 defensive linemen at times, which could allow them to “redshirt” a rookie defensive linemen who isn’t quite ready in his first year.

With that in mind, let’s look at who might be available at defensive end.

DEFENSIVE END AGE TEAM 2016 AAV MARKET VALUE
Calais Campbell 30 ARI $11,000,000 Market Value
Jason Pierre-Paul 28 NYG $10,000,000 Market Value
Mario Williams 32 MIA $8,500,000 -
Jabaal Sheard 27 NE $5,500,000 Market Value
Glenn Dorsey 31 SF $4,362,500 -
Chris Baker 29 WAS $3,000,000 Market Value
Charles Johnson 30 CAR $3,000,000 Market Value
Andre Branch 27 MIA $2,750,000 Market Value
Chris Long 31 NE $2,375,000 -
Vance Walker 29 DEN $2,000,000 -
Stephen Paea 28 CLE $1,900,000 Market Value
Mario Addison 29 CAR $1,280,000 Market Value
Lawrence Guy 26 BAL $1,150,000 -
Jack Crawford 28 DAL $1,100,000 -
Tony Jerod-Eddie 26 SF $1,000,000 -
Cullen Jenkins 36 WAS $985,000 -
Antonio Smith 35 HOU $985,000 -
Darryl Tapp 32 NO $985,000 -
Evander Hood 30 WAS $935,000 -
Margus Hunt 29 CIN $917,776 -
Wallace Gilberry 32 CIN $885,000 -
Justin Trattou 28 MIN $810,000 -
Billy Winn 27 DEN $760,000 -
Cam Thomas 30 LA $760,000 -
Kendall Reyes 27 KC $760,000 -
C.J. Wilson 29 CHI $760,000 -
Jarvis Jenkins 28 KC $760,000 -
John Hughes 28 TB $760,000 -
Damion Square 28 LAC $725,000 -
Damontre Moore 24 SEA $675,000 -
Greg Scruggs 26 NE $667,500 -
William Gholston 25 TB $640,136 Market Value
Devin Taylor 27 DET $615,146 Market Value
Cornelius Washington 27 CHI $565,947 -

As before, the most expensive guys on this list are just not realistic targets for the Cowboys. This pretty much rules out Calais Campbell ($8.3M plus 30 years old), and Jason Pierre-Paul who was just franchise tagged by the Giants ($14.6M, with mangled hand). These are the others that Spotrac has estimated market value for.

Jabaal Sheard, 27, $8.8 million, 580 snaps, PFF 79.6.

Chris Baker, 29, $7.3 million, 783 snaps, PFF 82.2 (rated as interior DL).

Charles Johnson, 30, $5.9 million, 541 snaps, PFF 81.4.

Andre Branch, 27, $7.2 million, 774 snaps, PFF 56.4.

Mario Addison, 29, $7.1 million, 433 snaps, PFF 83.6. (Re-signed w/ Carolina)

William Gholston, 25, $5.8 million, 585 snaps, PFF 45.1.

Devin Taylor, 27, $7 million, 665 snaps, PFF 39.1.

Of these, Sheard looks too expensive while Johnson is over 30. Baker might make more sense inside, but he’s really a 3-4 DE.

If you throw in the outside linebackers who might switch to defensive end, here’s that list.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS AGE TEAM 2016 AAV MARKET VALUE
DeMarcus Ware 34 DEN $10,000,000 Market Value
Robert Mathis 35 IND $9,000,000 -
Julius Peppers 37 GB $8,666,667 -
Nick Perry 26 GB $5,050,000 Market Value
Trent Cole 34 IND $4,250,000 -
Barkevious Mingo 26 NE $4,086,750 -
Erik Walden 31 IND $4,000,000 -
Paul Kruger 31 NO $3,000,000 -
Chad Greenway 34 MIN $2,750,000 -
Akeem Ayers 27 IND $2,600,000 -
Jarvis Jones 27 PIT $2,176,376 -
Melvin Ingram 27 LAC $2,099,559 Market Value
Chandler Jones 26 ARI $2,043,138 Market Value
Datone Jones 26 GB $1,929,147 -
Andrew Gachkar 28 DAL $1,750,000 -
John Simon 26 HOU $1,671,000 -
James Harrison 38 PIT $1,375,000 -
Mark Herzlich 29 NYG $1,300,000 -
Courtney Upshaw 27 ATL $1,250,000 -
Bryan Braman 29 PHI $1,047,500 -
Dwight Freeney 37 ATL $1,000,000 -
Michael Morgan 29 SEA $1,000,000 -
Philip Wheeler 32 ATL $965,000 -
Lorenzo Alexander 33 BUF $885,000 Market Value
Sam Acho 28 CHI $840,000 -
Spencer Paysinger 28 MIA $840,000 -
Lerentee McCray 26 BUF $800,000 -
Dekoda Watson 28 DEN $760,000 -
Chris Carter 27 IND $760,000 -
Josh Bynes 27 DET $760,000 -
Corey Lemonier 25 NYJ $675,813 -
Alex Okafor 26 ARI $658,607 -
Jelani Jenkins 24 MIA $658,172 -
Josh Martin 25 NYJ $630,000 -
Tourek Williams 25 LAC $567,515 -
Michael Mauti 27 NO $555,682 -
Armonty Bryant 26 DET $555,150 -
David Bass 26 TEN $540,000 -

DeMarcus Ware is estimated at $5.9M. He has already been debated on BTB more than once. Despite his age, he could be an option, depending on price. At this price, he looks a bit too expensive. But at $5M or less, he might be a good choice if he came on a one- or two-year deal with no carryover cost if he retired after next season. The reason to consider him is that he would bring what Randy Gregory was drafted to bring — speed off the edge. That’s one thing lacking in Dallas’s defense. As others have mentioned, he would also be a good mentor and teacher for DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, David Irving, and the other linemen.

Melvin Ingram ($17.2 M) and Chandler Jones ($16.2M) are too expensive and both have received the franchise tag. Not only is it a money issue, it’s a snaps issue. Olivier Vernon, for example, the high priced free agent the Giants signed last year, played 1,040 defensive snaps last year, the most in the NFL. Tyrone Crawford led Dallas defensive ends with 593 snaps, for 59th in the NFL. In Rod Marinelli’s rotation, it’s even more challenging to pay top dollar.

Nick Perry, 26, $8.5M, 606 snaps. He’s the other most intriguing candidate besides Ware. OCC had an article on him recently. At 6-3, 265, he’s got the size to play defensive end, and he’s the perfect age. But will the Packers let him go?

If the Cowboys added Ware, he would likely play no more than 320-400 snaps, or 20-25 per game if he stayed healthy the whole season. He would largely serve as a stop gap until Randy Gregory returned, or if Gregory never returns, until Dallas could draft another edge rusher with speed.

If Perry was the move, the Cowboys would be looking for him to settle in for four-five years and perhaps take the role they hoped DeMarcus Lawrence would fill.

Defensive Tackle

Dallas is thinner at defensive tackle, especially if Tyrone Crawford is left outside next year. Terrell McClain could be brought back, but was injured two of his three years here. Let’s see what’s available on the market.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE AGE TEAM 2016 AAV MARKET VALUE
Vince Wilfork 35 HOU $4,500,000 -
Domata Peko 32 CIN $4,500,000 -
Earl Mitchell 29 MIA $4,000,000 -
Tyson Alualu 29 JAC $3,000,000 -
Jonathan Babineaux 35 ATL $3,000,000 -
Nick Fairley 29 NO $3,000,000 -
Dontari Poe 26 KC $2,830,002 Market Value
Frostee Rucker 33 ARI $2,159,375 -
Alan Branch 32 NE $2,150,000 -
Sean Lissemore 29 LAC $2,000,000 -
Sylvester Williams 28 DEN $1,895,438 Market Value
Karl Klug 28 TEN $1,850,000 -
Stefan Charles 28 DET $1,750,000 -
Corbin Bryant 29 BUF $1,671,000 -
Tyrunn Walker 26 DET $1,600,000 -
Kawann Short 28 CAR $1,157,584 Market Value
Terrell McClain 28 DAL $1,016,667 -
Johnathan Hankins 25 NYG $1,007,672 -
Kedric Golston 33 WAS $1,005,000 -
Tony McDaniel 32 SEA $985,000 -
Leger Douzable 30 BUF $885,000 -
Brandon Thompson 27 CIN $840,000 -
Kyle Love 30 CAR $760,000 -
Ricardo Mathews 29 PIT $760,000 -
Sealver Siliga 27 TB $760,000 -
Bennie Logan 27 PHI $758,108 -
Devon Still 27 HOU $675,000 -
John Jenkins 27 SEA $675,000 -
Jordan Hill 26 JAC $675,000 -
Brandon Williams 27 BAL $668,750 Market Value
Akeem Spence 25 TB $661,106 -
Stacy McGee 27 OAK $559,670 -

Kawaan Short ($17.4M), Dontari Poe ($12.1M), and Brandon Williams ($12.4M) are too expensive and Short got the franchise tag.

Sylvester Williams ($4.5M) would be affordable, but is Dallas likely to spend that kind of money at defensive tackle? Unlikely after the Cedric Thornton experiment didn’t go so well in year one.

The more likely move, if Dallas is going to sign anyone for the inside, would be to bring back Terrell McClain or Jack Crawford on cheap contracts. But this is unlikely to be a high priority.

Perhaps the most likely scenario is for Dallas to look to add inside in the draft, like they did with Maliek Collins. This will keep them young, and allow them to keep seeking difference makers without having to spend a lot of money to do so.

Part 1: What Is Dallas’s Team Building Philosophy?

Part 2: Where is Dallas Strong?

Part 3: Where is Dallas Just Okay?

Part 4: Where is Dallas Weakest?

Part 5: Freeing up Money For Free Agent Signings

Part 6: In-house Free Agents

Part 7: Outside Free Agents on Offense

Part 8a: Outside Free Agents, Defensive Secondary

Next - Part 9: Drafting on Offense