Recently my colleague, Michael Sisemore wrote an interesting article where he brought into question this team’s ability to successfully obtain quality pass rushers. Whether it’s a draft issue or a development issue, the Cowboys certainly have struggled in this department. The team has been fantastic at drafting other positions and Rod Marinelli is a great coach, so why is it that this team can’t seem to find anyone on the edge that can get to the quarterback?
If we sat here and brainstormed this problem, it wouldn’t be hard to pin-point some possible root causes. The sources with the most hash marks would be things like:
No first round draft resources. It has been a full decade since the Cowboys have taken a defensive end in the first round.
Chump change spent on players. The most expensive edge rusher the Cowboys have on the payroll is Benson Mayowa, with an annual average salary of $2.75 M.
Rolling the dice on high risk players. It’s tough to get something for nothing, but that didn’t stop the Cowboys from trying when they selected Randy Gregory in the second round of 2015.
If these are legitimate causes to the Cowboys wretched failings at acquiring talent on the edge, then the solution would be to attack those assertions. So, let’s get at it. Here is a three-step plan to fixing the Cowboys woes at defensive line.
Draft A Good Defensive End
Wow, that was easy. Just avoid drafting the bad ones.
For a team that hasn’t done well in drafting good defensive ends, this seems like quite a challenging task. Maybe it is. But also, maybe it’s not. Without having drafted a defensive end in the first round for so long, it’s hard to say whether they are good at it or not. The Cowboys attempt to draft pure, so when they’ve been on the clock, the best player on their board hasn’t been a defensive end. And there’s a good chance that will also be the case again this year when Dallas picks at 28. So, if they want to secure one of the better DE’s in the draft, then they need to move to him.
It’s not even worth discussing the “reach” possibility because we know the Cowboys aren’t going to do that. They are extremely disciplined when it comes to their board in early rounds of the draft. They’ll draft a tight end before reaching for player based on need.
While reaching isn’t the answer, moving around, is. Some may balk at this idea because this year’s draft is deep with defensive ends. Indeed, that’s true. A good one should be available when the Cowboys pick finally rolls around. However, an even better cornerback might be available too and that would mean no pass rusher in the first round. Dallas can stop this from happening by driving to the player they want. Typically, the Cowboys will have about 15 to 20 first round grades on players this year. There will be some defensive ends in this pool. When one of their first-round-graded DEs starts sliding past twenty, the Cowboys need to pounce. Giving up a the third-round pick is a small price to pay if you can get an edge rusher that can make a difference.
This in itself, takes discipline. If there is not a defensive end that jumps off their board, then it would make no sense moving up for them. This Cowboys board may suggest that this position group is rich in talent from spots like 25 to 50, so maybe the move they need to make comes in the second round.
Despite not having success when drafting pass rushers, the Cowboys need to trust their scouts. They’ve never took a shot at one of the real first-round talents at the defensive end position. If it’s like anything else they’ve been doing in the first round in recent years, it’s probably going to be a great pick.
It should be noted that the Cowboys had high grades on players like Joey Bosa and Leonard Floyd. Because of a crack-staff website who cleverly reconfigured the Cowboys 2016 draft board, we all know the Cowboys had these players high on their board. Despite what some people might have told you about Bosa being a bust (looks away, hoping not to be noticed), he was an absolute beast for San Diego this season. He had 10 ½ sacks in just 12 games. And Floyd played well too, recording seven sacks in just 12 games. This including 6 ½ sacks in a span of five game, including a game where he sacked Aaron Rodgers twice.
It’s not like the Cowboys are way off base with their talent evaluations. They just haven’t went after any of the top tier talent during the draft.
Buy A Proven Free Agent
If it seems like I’m hitting the panic button, just hear me out. We know this isn’t how the Cowboys operate. Stephen Jones has made it very clear that throwing a lot of money around in free agency is not a good recipe for success. And it’s not. Teams are fortunate if they get 80 cents on the dollar for any free agent they sign from other squads. It’s a risky business.
But when it comes to defensive ends, the risk is less. It is a position that’s been reliable in free agency. The Cowboys don’t need to find themselves one of the elite pass rushers in the league via a flick of the pen, but they need a really good one. As Michael stated in his article:
This team is full of guys with high motors and marginal talent; they now need to go after difference makers. We’re talking about guys that are constantly and consistently disruptions to the opposing offense. Enough with the talk about Marinelli doing wonders or creating chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what, it’s time to capitalize on 12-4 and 13-3 seasons.
There is a short list of strong free agent defensive ends and the Cowboys need to actively pursue one of them. Whether it’s Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, or Melvin Ingram – the Cowboys need to dance around in contract talks.
The Cowboys are going to be saving a lot of money in subsequent years after the Tony Romo decision is completed. Even if they did draft a good pass rusher this season, it’s going to take a little time to be real force. Going about and purchasing a proven one may not give them all the bang for their buck, but it will give them some bang.
Stay True To The Right Kind Of Guy
Now if you think what I’ve said up until this point is just crazy talk, it’s time to reel it back a bit. This isn’t a time of desperation and the Cowboys shouldn’t be throwing all caution to the wind. Both the above moves are risky, but they can mitigate some of this risk by staying true to a strategy that has helped them immensely – getting the right kind of football player. Last year’s draft was a home run with an onslaught of players with great traits. If the team continues to invest in high character players, they are going to increase their likeliness of being available to the team. That means avoiding precarious rookies like Randy Gregory or troubled free agents like Greg Hardy. They must do their due diligence so they feel good about the type of player they are getting.
It’s not so bad to overspend a bit if you take some of the risk out of it.
If the Cowboys don’t fix their pass rush, they are going to have to learn a way to win without it. That was something many fans were hoping to see happen in 2016, but they came up short. If they remain patient, they may eventually get there, but then the next thing you know – they’ll have two young stars who are going to be commanding big contracts.
The time to act is now.