On Tuesday Cowboys fans were greeted with the news that defensive end Randy Gregory was indefinitely suspended for violating league policies on substance abuse. While there is still a chance that Gregory is able to play in 2019, the team is undoubtedly going to pursue a starting caliber edge rusher in either free agency or the draft, or both.
Dallas actually gets a bit lucky here, as the 2019 draft class is pretty deep at edge rushing positions, as well as a free agency pool that has some pretty big names likely to be available. Here are eight free agents the Cowboys could look to sign to replace Randy Gregory.
This should be a familiar name, as Benson Mayowa spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the Cowboys. He fell behind on the depth chart in his final year in Dallas, but he was a productive pass rusher in 2016 with a team high six sacks. That year, DeMarcus Lawrence only played in nine games, so Mayowa was asked to be the primary edge rusher for the team in many cases.
If Mayowa made a return to Dallas, he’d command less attention from blockers with Lawrence on the other edge of the line. But Mayowa certainly still has some juice, as he tallied four sacks in 2018 with the Cardinals despite not getting many opportunities behind starters Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.
There once was a time when Dion Jordan was thought to be the next great pass rusher, and the Miami Dolphins took him with the third overall draft pick over players like Ezekiel Ansah, Tyler Eifert, and Xavier Rhodes. Between injuries and drug-related suspensions, Jordan never really panned out.
He’s spent the last two years in Seattle and has seemingly cleaned up his off-the-field issues, and he played in 12 games in 2018. Over 17 total games in Seattle, Jordan tallied 5.5 sacks while being used almost exclusively in nickel package roles. His suspension history might cool any interest in him given the Cowboys’ situation with Gregory, but on a talent basis it seems that Jordan still has something to offer.
Alex Okafor is a talented pass rushing talent that came out of the heart of Dallas and had a productive collegiate career as a Longhorn. He played outside linebacker for the Cardinals for the first four years of his career and notched 13.5 sacks in the blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme.
He’s spent the past two seasons, though, playing as a defensive end in New Orleans’ 4-3 defense. In 2017, Okafor got off to a hot start with 4.5 sacks through ten games, but a torn Achilles ended his season prematurely. In 2018, Okafor competed with rookie Marcus Davenport for snaps and despite starting all 16 games, Okafor usually came off the field in pass rushing downs. Nevertheless, Okafor still put up four sacks and displayed that he hadn’t lost any pass rushing skill in recovering from his Achilles tear. He could carve out a nice role in Dallas playing for his hometown team.
The Cowboys know all about Brandon Graham having gone against him and the Eagles twice a year for the past nine seasons. Graham is a dangerous pass rusher but the most impressive trait about him is his durability. Graham has played in 88% of regular season contests throughout his career and has only missed one game since 2012.
He also has 42.5 career sacks during his time in Philly, and the 2018 season was the first time since 2013 that Graham failed to get at least five sacks. The main reason for the low number last year was an abundance of talent at the position with a very deep rotation along the line. It’s also a reason why the Eagles are likely to be moving on from Graham, and he could stay in the division and pair up with DeMarcus Lawrence to terrorize quarterbacks in Dallas.
Here’s a name that could find his way to Dallas because of Kris Richard and his familiarity with the coach. Bruce Irvin made a name for himself in Seattle’s Legion of Boom, where he alternated between linebacker and defensive end and put up 22 total sacks over four seasons.
Irvin left the Seahawks for the Raiders, whose defensive coordinator had been his position coach in Seattle. In his first two years there, Irvin notched 15 sacks in a similar role to what he had in Seattle, but when Jon Gruden took over this past year, Irvin became yet another Raiders player who was cast out by the new regime. Irvin was cut during the season and signed with Atlanta, where head coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel had been defensive coaches in Irvin’s days in Seattle. Now a free agent again, Irvin could look to reunite with another former Seahawks coach in Richard and function as a sort of stopgap edge rusher while Gregory works his way back from suspension.
This signing would be a sort of out-of-the-box move for Dallas, but not one without a lot of sense to it. Anthony Barr has been a dynamic linebacker for the Vikings and done just about everything they’ve asked him to do, but with his rookie deal coming to a close, Minnesota may not be willing to pay him the price he’ll want.
However, back when Barr was in the 2014 draft, the Cowboys reportedly looked at him as an option at defensive end. At 255 pounds, Barr has always been a bigger body for a traditional 4-3 linebacker, and he’s used it well when asked to blitz. Barr has 13.5 career sacks in Minnesota. Nobody knows how Barr would do as a full-time pass rusher, but the Cowboys at least thought that was his best fit at one time.
Shaquil Barrett is an intriguing option in free agency. An undrafted pass rusher out of Colorado State, Barrett signed with the Broncos in 2014 and carved out a reserve role behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware before splitting time with Shane Ray after Ware’s retirement. In 2018, Barrett was once again relegated to a reserve role behind Bradley Chubb.
However, when Barrett has been on the field he’s demonstrated an ability to succeed in rushing the passer. He’s only started 15 games in his career, but Barrett has 14 sacks to his name. All of those sacks have come as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but if the Cowboys are confident in his ability to put his hands in the dirt and still be effective, Barrett could represent a very cost effective option.
If the Cowboys are still planning on Randy Gregory being the long-term answer as DeMarcus Lawrence’s pass rushing pal, then Cameron Wake could be the perfect fit for the 2019 season. Having just turned 37 in January, Wake is in the twilight of his career and his expiring contract with Miami is a big one: he had a cap hit just shy of $10 million in 2018.
Wake’s 98 career sacks in his ten years in Miami are the second most in franchise history behind Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. And while Wake only posted six sacks in 2018, he had two consecutive years of double-digit sacks in 2016 and 2017, so it’s not as if he’s become unable to rush the passer. Rather, Wake is just incapable of still being the premier pass rusher, but if he were to come to Dallas on a short-term deal he’d be the second and maybe third pass rusher, giving him much more leeway.