Last year before the draft, the front office was asked if the suspensions of Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence caused them to approach the defensive end position with a sense of urgency. Despite hurting at the position, they answered with a resounding - no. And as the draft progressed, their response was validated as the team kept selecting premium talent, regardless of need and didn’t take a defensive end until the fourth round when they picked Charles Tapper.
Fast forward to now and the Cowboys once again find themselves depleted along the edge of the defensive line. Up-and-coming prospect David Irving will miss the first four games and free agent Damontre Moore will miss the first two games. Both are suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Irving (PED’s) was a player that many people felt that could break out and have a big season in 2017. Moore (DWI) has been having a strong camp and could eventually challenge for the starting right defensive end position. But neither will be available when the season starts.
And things just went from bad to worse when Tyrone Crawford suffered a lateral ankle sprain on Tuesday that will make him a questionable go for the start of the season. Crawford was having a strong camp and looked like the team’s best edge rusher before the injury.
So now what?
Wednesday on The Break, there was a consensus from the panel that the Cowboys would make a move and trade for a defensive end. For that to happen, two things would have to occur. First, the team would have to sense that they are not adequately staffed to make it through the first few games. And if that is how they felt, then they would have to trade away something of value that would be good enough to land a player that isn’t just another body. Despite missing a few players, the Cowboys still have bodies. If they make a deal, it would have to be for someone who is better than a short-term rental to get them through the suspensions.
The Cowboys are deep enough at DE to handle this little hiccup. For starters, let’s look at the starters. Here is what the 1’s looked like today.
With Crawford out, DeMarcus Lawrence at LDE and Benson Mayowa at RDE— Kevin Turner (@ktfuntweets) August 10, 2017
If Crawford is not able to go, then the starting defensive ends would be DeMarcus Lawrence (LDE) and Benson Mayowa (RDE). These two players just so happen to be players who have each led the team in sacks over the last two years. Not only that, but both are looking to take a big step forward this season.
Lawrence struggled with injuries (back) that affected his performance. He is healthy now and is having a good camp. The four-year veteran has spent the offseason improving his weight and strengthening his core and will be playing in a contract year. He has pledged to the fans to be a force this season.
Cowboys fans I promise you I'm coming back bigger badder and better than ever. Surgery went great! #thereisnooffseason— Demarcus Lawrence (@TankLawrence) February 2, 2017
Mayowa spent all of last year learning the system. He started slow and even rode the pine during the middle of the season, but toward the end, things started clicking for him. He got a lot better as the season progressed. In the four games in December, he would get to the quarterback in every one.
And then there’s the rookie, Taco Charlton. He was drafted to the be the right defensive end of the future, but could start his career on the left side. He can play either side or even in the middle if asked. While initial reviews don’t have fans jumping for joy, he’s doing fine. He’s a rookie and like rookies often do, he struggles with his consistency. But give this kid time. Even while he’s developing, he’s still a player that can give the team some reps. Charlton is going to be a work in progress for a while, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help out off the bench. That was basically going to be his role anyway, only now he could get a few more chances each game.
Let’s not forget Charles Tapper is on the team as well. Fans cringe a bit as we worry about whether he can stay healthy. He missed all of last year and is now dealing with a sore hip. He looked sharp in his first NFL action last week as he got off the snap quickly and bent his way around the edge. Despite not getting a sack, he was close a couple times.
The Cowboys don’t need to panic. They continue to show small improvement in getting to the quarterback and the team has confidence that will continue. They had 28 sacks in 2014, 31 sacks in 2015, and 36 sacks last season. While it’s unclear who will be doing all the sacking, the team still has troops on the battle field to get to the quarterback. It won’t be a dominant pass rush, but nobody should expect it to be. This isn’t Denver or Seattle. This is a team that has so many other great pieces in place that if they can just get a little better on defense, it should be good enough to make a deep playoff run.
The Cowboys defensive line is a young group on the rise who will eventually get there. And they’ll dance with those that they brought to the dance as they have built this squad through the draft and inexpensive upside free agents. They are still sitting in good shape so there is no need to do anything crazy.