When the Dallas Cowboys resume football activities, there will be a lot of interest in what the defensive line looks like. DeMarcus Lawrence returns as a powerful DE, Aldon Smith has been reinstated while we hope for more good news on Randy Gregory, and Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Neville Gallimore offer real hope that the interior of the defensive line will be much more formidable. But in all that, there is a name that has been overlooked. Tyrone Crawford is something of a forgotten player.
He has been subject to a good deal of criticism for a perceived failure to be worth his cost. His cap hit in this, the final year of his contract, is $9.1 million, the ninth highest of all players on the team. Many look at the $8 million in potential cap savings if he were released and think that could be better used, or if a restructure might be in the cards. Crawford is coming off a stint on IR after hip surgery early last season, so it is not surprising he has slipped from many’s consideration as a contributor this season.
That may be a miscalculation. Crawford is the most versatile lineman the Cowboys have - he is not even listed as a DE or DT on the team’s website, but is labeled as DL. That reflects his ability to play both DE positions and the 3-tech role. He is a jack of most trades on the line, and that may be a very valuable attribute for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and line coach Jim Tomsula as they take over.
Based on what we have been hearing, the Cowboys will be using a hybrid approach to how the defense lines up. Instead of being a 4-3, they are expected to mix in a lot more 3-4 looks than in the recent past. Crawford’s ability to play in any assignment but a traditional 1-tech could make him an important piece that can be moved all over the defensive front. At 6-4 and 290, he is big enough to go against interior offensive linemen, but has shown he also has the speed and power to work from end. In those anticipated 3-4 looks, he can be a hand on the ground DE.
In passing situations, he can be used to add some extra push lined up with McCoy on the inside with both working more as 3-techs. If the Cowboys use what is referred to as a NASCAR package, he could be a part of that alignment while Lawrence and Smith fill the DE slots.
He has an additional value for the team as a possible starter at RDE. Smith is coming off a long time away from the game. While all reports are that Smith is in incredible shape, the coaches may still need Crawford to be the starter while Smith is getting fully back into game condition. Obviously he also provides needed depth at end. He can step in at either end position to help if someone gets nicked up, and can just give someone a breather as well.
Coming off surgery is always something to keep an eye on. Crawford does not believe it is going to be a problem. He stated that his recovery has gone better than he expected and he feels “awesome.” Those kinds of remarks have to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, since this is the “best shape of my career” season in the NFL.
Still, the team has kept him, and before his injury forced him off the field, he was one of the reasons they were comfortable with parting ways with former first-round pick Taco Charlton. Now he is set to have a bigger role. The new coaches may just give him a bit of a renaissance by finding ways to put him in a better position to succeed.
Crawford is not likely to be one of the top producers on the defensive line. His great value is in being able to fill multiple roles without hurting the team. If he is healthy, we may be seeing a good bit more of him this season.