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Cowboys roster breakdown: New direction coming at defensive tackle

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How will the position change under the new defensive coaching regime?

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

When the Dallas Cowboys remade their coaching staff, there was a noticeable difference between the planned direction for the offense and defense. In keeping Kellen Moore and moving Doug Nussmeier to quarterbacks coach, the evident intention is to keep the offense as consistent as possible for the continued development of Dak Prescott. But the defense is expected to make a much more radical shift. The biggest impact may be for the defensive tackle position.

Under Rod Marinelli, the philosophy was to defend the run while going at the quarterback. His emphasis was on fast and therefore lighter players, and there was an emphasis on 3-techss while 1-techs were more of an afterthought. Now, with Jim Tomsula handling the D line, it may finally be time to see the Cowboys add what my podcast leader Michael Sisemore calls a “coke machine with arms” to clog up the middle of the line, focusing more on pushing the interior of the offensive line back than penetrating it.

It turns out that change at the position is not only indicated, it is necessitated by the current state of the position for Dallas.

Currently under contract

  • Trysten Hill
  • Justin Hamilton

Yeah. That’s less than optimal.

Hill is the poster boy for Marinelli’s template at DT. Marinelli is believed to have been the driving force behind taking Hill in the 2019 draft, instead of players like safeties Taylor Rapp and Juan Thornhill, both of whom made significantly greater contributions to their teams as rookies than Hill did.

Hamilton is a well-traveled journeyman player, but it is noteworthy that he is listed as 6-2 and 315 pounds, possibly showing that Dallas has already started moving towards using bigger players.

Current free agents

  • Maliek Collins
  • Antwaun Woods
  • Daniel Ross

Collins was not terrible in 2019, but after having been pegged by many as a breakout player, he was seen as a disappointment. There is not much belief that he is likely to be brought back. Woods played very well during his tenure in Dallas and was something of a fan favorite. He was also the closest body type to a true 1-tech the team had. He is the most likely to be considered for a return, and the team has control since he is an exclusive rights free agent. Ross flashed in camp but ended last season on IR.

Available outside free agents

From the NFL Trade Rumors list of the top 100, with age included.

  • Chris Jones, 27
  • D.J. Reader, 27
  • Leonard Williams, 27
  • Javon Hargrave, 27
  • Gerald McCoy, 32
  • Ndamukong Suh, 33
  • Jarran Reed 27
  • Andrew Billings 24
  • Quinton Jefferson 27
  • Michael Pierce 27

Chris Jones, of the Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs, is the cream of the crop but will likely command top dollar. After that, no one in this group starts showing up on the list until spot 32. That means none of them, outside of Jones, are likely to be break-the-bank free agents, which matters in Dallas. In the past, Suh has been linked to the Cowboys, although probably not based on anything real. But if he still has anything in the tank, he would probably be quite affordable for a one-year rental or so. Also, Collins is listed at spot 89. That is after all the players listed above.

Top draft possibilities

One of the most interesting things to watch is whether the Cowboys are willing to invest much draft capital in DT, a position where they have been reluctant to do so in the past. They finally used a premium pick last year on Hill, and his skimpy work during the season is not exactly encouraging. But you can’t let past mistakes keep you from doing what needs to be done.

This list is all the players in the top 100 of the CBS Sports draft ranking that are designated DL rather than EDGE, so it should indicate interior line players. The overall ranking is again included. Unlike other positions, this list also has the height and weight of each player included to help indicate the body type.

  • 6 Derrick Brown 6-5 318 - Auburn
  • 7 Javon Kinlaw 6-6 310 - South Carolina
  • 21 Neville Gallimore 6-2 302 - Oklahoma
  • 29 Ross Blacklock 6-4 305 - TCU
  • 67 Jordan Elliott 6-4 315 - Missouri
  • 69 Raekwon Davis 6-7 312 - Alabama
  • 71 Justin Madubuike 6-3 304 - Texas A&M
  • 82 Marlon Davidson 6-3 278 - Auburn
  • 88 Davon Hamilton 6-4 310 - Ohio State
  • 100 Rashard Lawrence 6-2 308 - LSU

At first glance, both Brown and Kinlaw would be presumed to be out of reach for the Cowboys. But Dallas is not the only team that is a bit hesitant to spend top 15 draft picks on interior defensive linemen. One or both of them could slide to within range if the team is interested. It is doubtful, however. That still leaves some prospects to consider.

Obviously, the Cowboys have no choice but to get some additional defensive tackles. What will be interesting, as it will with safety, is to see just how much they are willing to invest in the process.