Yesterday, Terrell McClain parlayed his best-of-career 2016 season into a four year, $21 million deal with Washington. Meanwhile, Jack Crawford, who also had a career year in 2016, signed with Atlanta for three years and $10.3 million.
Where does that leave the Cowboys? Must they scramble to find replacement free agents before the best ones are gone? Probably not.
As we wrote as part of our 10-part offseason plan for Dallas, despite everyone complaining about the pass rush, the Cowboys could improve on the defensive line next season without adding a “War Daddy” to the roster.
There is some potential for improvement next season with players already on the roster. DeMarcus Lawrence, for example, might return to his eight sacks of 2015, which would be seven more than this year. Benson Mayowa might be more consistent right out of the gate. David Irving might finally harness his potential. Maliek Collins could up his game, and even Tyrone Crawford might improve on his totals. Then there is the complete unknown Charles Tapper, who missed this season with a back issue. A true speed rusher like Randy Gregory could make a big difference. The Cowboys have only six defensive linemen under contract, and they typically carry nine.
After this was written, David Irving was tendered a contract, giving the Cowboys seven linemen still under contract. Cedric Thornton is the other linemen not mentioned above, and he could certainly improve upon his 2016 season.
Dallas was in no position to offer the types of contracts given to McClain and Crawford, and it would not have been wise to do so anyway. McClain is 29 and coming off his only healthy season in his last three, and even then got nicked up at the end of the year. Crawford has versatility, and played a lot of snaps, but should not be that hard to replace.
Given the fact that Dallas is almost certainly going to draft at least one defensive lineman, and possibly two, letting McClain and Crawford go just opens up an opportunity for those lineman to get meaningful snaps as rookies. Dallas is also not precluded from dipping into the free agent pool in search of bargains like McClain and Crawford were when the Cowboys signed them in the first place.
The biggest names may be gone, but as our series piece on the defensive line showed, there are still a lot of options out there. Among them is DeMarcus Ware, who has been in discussions with Denver, but is also going to test the free agent waters. He may be up in years, and unable to play more than 300-400 snaps, but he would provide a speed element off the edge that Dallas has been lacking, and could be an on-field mentor to help edge rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Tyrone Crawford, David Irving and Charles Tapper realize their potential.