The Dallas Cowboys are really deep along the defensive line. Over the last several years, the team has used every facet of the draft to bring in new edge rushers. If you go down the list of all the current edge rushers who are competing for a job, you’ll find a draft pick from each round of the draft that was used to acquire that player.
Dallas Cowboys defensive end investments...— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 21, 2019
1st R: Taco Charlton
2nd R: DeMarcus Lawrence
3rd R: Tyrone Crawford
4th R: Dorance Armstrong
5th R: Joe Jackson
6th R: Robert Quinn (trade)
7th R: Jalen Jelks
UDFA: Kerry Hyder (free agency)
The Cowboys are not going to be able to carry eight defensive ends. Somebody has got to go. Strangely, one of the names in question could be their top draft investment - Taco Charlton.
The Cowboys selected Charlton with the 28th overall pick in 2017, and it would be an understatement to say he hasn’t lived up to his draft price. After an unimpressive rookie season where he had just three sacks, Charlton was even less of a factor last year. He finished with just one sack and ended up being inactive for three games.
Taco is having a pretty solid camp. He’s flashed some good plays, and statistically he’s been the most disruptive player in the preseason so far.
Cowboys leaders in disruptions (sack, TFL, QB hit, INT, PD, FF) through two preseason games:— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) August 19, 2019
1. Taco Charlton - 4
2. Donovan Olumba - 3
t3. Ricky Walker - 2
t3. Kerry Hyder - 2
t3. Trysten Hill - 2
t3. Joe Jackson - 2
He’s definitely shown some improvement as Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli spoke about what he’s seen as of late.
Rod Marinelli on the improvement he's seen in Taco Charlton: "His pass rushes have gotten better. How he plays the defense has gotten better. I think his consistency has gotten better. I think he's done a pretty good job on both sides."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 21, 2019
Charlton would give fans reasons to be optimistic if this was happening at this same time last season, but things are different now. For starters, he’s now in his third year and has shown minimal growth up until this point. But more importantly, the defensive end position group is a lot more stacked than it was a year ago. The Cowboys traded for Robert Quinn and signed Kerry Hyder in free agency. They also drafted two new rookies in Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. The team has some tough decisions to make with this group, so let’s put things in perspective when it comes to Charlton.
- DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford will most likely start at the defensive end positions.
- Quinn should replace Crawford in pass rushing situations.
- Dorance Armstrong has shown great improvement in year two and appears to be the next in line to get snaps on the edge.
- Kerry Hyder is playing well. He looks every bit as good as he did in 2016 when he had eight sacks. He’s even been moved inside in pass rushing situations so Hyder may provide additional value to the pass rushing rotation.
That’s five edge rushers ahead of Charlton. If he made the team, what would his role be exactly? He’s not getting very many reps with all those guys ahead of him, so whomever they keep after that is going to be someone to be used for the future. That is where a young defensive end like Jackson or Jelks makes more sense. Both the rookies have had some pretty good moments in camp to the point where it could be risky trying to sneak them on the practice squad. With the rookies, the Cowboys get four years of super-cheap service, versus just the two with Taco. Even if Charlton took a nice step up this year, the team isn’t likely going to be picking up his fifth-year option, meaning he could be gone after the 2020 season.
We first pondered the idea of dealing Taco before April’s draft, but things have happened now to where that makes even more sense. It’s more apparent what Quinn, Armstrong, and Hyder bring to the team. And they can now hit the reset with their young edge rushers, who already show more promise than what Charlton had early on. With those guys - there’s upside and they have a lot more time to reap the benefits from it than the shrinking two-year hour glass of Charlton.
It also may appeal more to a potential suitor than it did before the draft. Teams have a better feel of what their defensive end situation is and there is bound to be some team needing to add some depth. The draft resource they’d have to give up now comes from 2020 and not last April’s draft.
If the Cowboys coaching staff decided the team would be better off going with one of the rookies, Charlton could end up being released during final roster cuts. Of course, this would come with a $4.1 million dead money hit as the team still has to account for the remainder of his prorated signing bonus and guaranteed 2019 salary. If they can find a buyer, not only would they get something in return, but they’d also trim $1.3 million of the dead money hit.
One thing that could buy the Cowboys a little time is Quinn’s two-game suspension. The team could hold on to an extra pass rusher while he’s out as they’ll have an extra roster spot available. The Cowboys open the season against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, so if they were able to get a comfortable win, maybe Charlton could get more opportunity to showcase his ability and dangle that carrot in front of possible trade partners.
Charlton is good enough to keep on the team, but roster spots are precious and the Cowboys may be better served to go a different direction. If they are close to waving the white flag on the this experiment and prefer to hang on to one of their rookies instead, trading him is right way to go.