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Cowboys free agent focus: Dontari Poe is right investment for improving Dallas’ run defense

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Finally, a guy that can eat up blocks and swallow up running backs has been added to the Cowboys.

NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

[We have previously been profiling potential fits for the Cowboys but now free agency is here, and things are moving. Let’s start profiling the free agent acquisitions made by the Dallas Cowboys to see where they stand in their roster-building.]

The Cowboys have been active in improving their defense in free agency having lost several starters from the 2019 season. After adding multi-time Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy, they are finalizing the terms on a deal for another multi-time Pro Bowler, DT Dontari Poe. Both McCoy and Poe were recent teammates starting last season for the Carolina Panthers and now will reunite in Dallas. Both guys have All-Pro accolades and skins on the wall. Lastly, both will be very helpful pieces around Cowboys star pass rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence.

This signing of Dontari Poe will signify a change in philosophy from former DC Rod Marinelli to current DC Mike Nolan. The value of the run-stuffing defensive tackle just increased exponentially from where it used to sit under the former coaching staff. For many years, followers of this football team have begged for a true nose tackle, capable of eating up double teams, collapsing pockets, and closing rushing lanes. It requires bigger body types to accomplish those goals because smaller defensive tackles might be able to offer some pass rush but they can get blown off the ball or get out of position trying to get upfield against the run. When that happens, it puts a ton of pressure on linebackers to clean up, and ultimately makes your defense vulnerable to the run. Well, wish no more, the Cowboys have added some beef to this front four. The Cowboys front four just jumped from an average of 287 pounds in 2019 to 302 pounds in 2020.

Dontari Poe is a quality player at one of the most unheralded positions in football. Poe was drafted 11th overall by the Chiefs in the 2012 NFL Draft. He had shot up the draft boards after posting a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He spent three preseason games on the bench due to some technique issues but was moved into the starting nose tackle position after the starter suffered an ankle injury. Poe would go on to start every game as a rookie, recording 28 solo tackles, and was in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Over the next two seasons, he would start 31 games, recording 80 solo tackles, 10.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, and batted down five passes. Poe would also make consecutive Pro Bowls and made the All-Pro team in 2013. In the 2015 season, he would become the heaviest player in NFL history to score a rushing touchdown in a week 11 game vs. the Chargers. After five years in Kansas City, Poe had started 76 of 78 games, recorded 200 tackles, 30 QB hurries, 16 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 12 batted passes, and two rushing touchdowns.

Poe signed a one-year deal worth $8M with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, he added 40 tackles, four tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Poe’s production would earn him a three-year deal worth $27M with the Panthers. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for Poe in Carolina after two years of low production as well as five games missed due to injury. However, in Poe’s defense, he was working with a makeshift front on a 5-11 team. The Panthers placed Gerald McCoy outside to defensive end and Vernon Butler also missed several games with injuries.

Both Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe received much higher grades than the 2019 Cowboys’ starters, according to PFF. McCoy beat out Maliek Collins with 72.0 versus Collins’ 65.7. Poe’s 71.2 overall grade blew Antwaun Woods’ 56.9 out of the water. The real difference was in run defense where the duo of Collins-Woods averaged a 61.2, while McCoy-Poe averaged 73.6. The Cowboys new coaching staff has committed to fixing the run defense, which is line one in Defensive Football 101. Without question, the Cowboys have improved their defensive tackle situation with the signings of McCoy and Poe.