The offseason is upon us and soon the Dallas Cowboys will be searching for new talent to fill the roster. While many new players will wear the star this year, the guys we are most interested in will be the new starters. A couple of days ago, we identified six offensive starters (Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, James Hanna, Travis Frederick, and Jonathon Cooper) who were for one reason or another, unavailable last season. Today, we’ll take a look at the other side of the ball and examine the new faces in new places on defense.
DEFENSE - Five players
The Cowboys got great efficiency out of David Irving in 2017 as he had seven sacks in just eight games. Unfortunately, he missed half the season limiting his overall contribution to the defense. Fans were hopeful that he would be on the field more in 2018, but a wrench was thrown in those plans early when it was learned that he would start the season serving a four-game suspension for the second-straight year. He played in only two games last year, only logging 56 snaps for the season. What a let down.
What’s the damage? While the team missed Irving’s impact in the trenches, they got good production out of free agent signing Antwaun Woods. The addition of Woods allowed Maliek Collins to spend more time playing his natural 3-tech position.
What’s next? Entering the new season, the team still needs help at defensive tackle.
Anthony Hitchens left for a big payday from the Kansas City Chiefs. The fourth-round pick racked up a then career-high 84 tackles in 2017 despite missing four games. He was a solid piece to the linebacker group. He went on to have 135 tackles for the Chiefs this past season.
What’s the damage? As good as Hitchens was, the Cowboys didn’t miss him. The emergence of both Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch not only made Hitchens absence irrelevant, but the team didn’t miss Sean Lee either. It was a little sketchy with Hitchens leaving and durability concerns with Lee, but a revamped linebacker duo has remedied that in a hurry.
What’s next? Every offseason, the team has been faced with the question - what are they going to do if Lee gets hurt? For the first time in a long time, the question is now - what are they going to do with a healthy Lee? The veteran linebacker could become a cap casualty this offseason as his 2019 base salary is $7 million. That seems a bit high for someone who is not going to be stealing reps from Van Jaylon.
The Cowboys started the cornerback overhaul in 2017, but they continued it last season with a little bit of shuffling around. The starting cornerbacks from 2017 were Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, and rookie Jourdan Lewis. Second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie was hindered early on as he dealt with a hamstring injury.
The team mixed things up as Byron Jones moved from safety to corner. Brown, who struggled mightily in 2017 was moved from outside corner to slot corner. And Scandrick was straight-up released. Awuzie filled in as the other outside corner alongside Jones and Lewis moved to the bench as the team’s number four corner. That’s some pretty solid depth.
What’s the damage? Unlike all the previous changes, the Cowboys had complete control over this one. They made the decision to cut Scandrick as well as shifting Jones. And it was a good move as Jones earned All-Pro honors in his first full year as a starting cornerback.
What’s next? This is a young group and they keep getting better with experience. The addition of defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard certainly makes a big difference as well. The team may look to replenish talent at this position as Brown will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season.
With Jones leaving his post, that left a hole at safety. Fans kept holding their breath that Earl Thomas might fill that hole, but a trade to bring him to Dallas never came. Instead, the team relied on second-year, sixth-round steal Xavier Woods to man the position.
What’s the damage? Woods did a fantastic job. He’s not an elite talent like Thomas, but he’s done a nice job for the Cowboys secondary.
What’s next? The team may look to free agency to add more talent at this position with Thomas’ name again surfacing as a possible candidate. They may also look to the draft. It’s tough to say how the team proceeds as they are getting solid contribution from the players already on the roster, but they can always get better.
But that’s not all...
Replacing 11 total starters is a big task, but the Cowboys also swapped out some other key players. They parted ways with veteran kicker Dan Bailey, replacing him with rookie Brett Maher. In just his first year as the team’s kicker, Maher already holds the record for the two longest kicks in franchise history.
Fullback Keith Smith left in free agency, but the Cowboys turned around and traded for Jamize Olawale, who Smith was set to replace in Oakland.
And Benson Mayowa was released to save a little cap money, but more importantly to not hinder the progress of the Cowboys young edge rushers. Randy Gregory was reinstated and the Cowboys finally got some use out of him. Of course, that situation was short lived as we recently learned that he’s been suspended indefinitely for violating policy and program for substances of abuse.
Some possible candidates for change on defense...
DE, Randy Gregory - the league giveth and they taketh away. While it was good while it lasted, the dream of having DeMarcus Lawrence and Gregory as the bookends to the defensive line is gone. Dallas will have to find another edge rusher to go with Tank. 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton and last’s fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong are good candidates to replace Gregory.
DT, Antwaun Woods - Even though Woods played extremely well sliding into the starting 1-tech position, the Cowboys should look to upgrade the defensive tackle group. We like Woods as a starter, but we’d like him more as a reserve guy who’s behind a new more talented interior defensive linemen. Plus, both Woods and Maliek Collins are free agents after the 2019 season.
S, Jeff Heath - If the Cowboys do upgrade the safety position, Heath could be odd man out. Similar to Antwaun, who was also undrafted - he’s been very serviceable as a starter, but it would be nice to get better at that position.
Which starters on defense do you see the Cowboys replacing this season?