Jamal Adams wants to be traded to the Cowboys, but he’s currently being thwarted by a Jets front office that doesn’t want to trade him and a Cowboys front office forever concerned with giving up assets in any trade. But the good news is the Cowboys can still beef up their defense without having to trade the farm for Adams.
There are three options in free agency still that have the potential to make a big impact for the new-look Dallas defense under Mike Nolan, and at this late stage in the offseason, Dallas may be able to get them for pennies on the dollar.
EDGE Jabaal Sheard
The fact that Jabaal Sheard remains unsigned through July is astounding. He turned 31 two months ago but it’s clear that age hasn’t slowed him down yet. Sheard tallied 15.5 sacks in his last three years with the Colts, which included a scheme change moving him from an outside linebacker role to a hands-in-the-dirt defensive end who occasionally moved inside to defensive tackle.
It’s that kind of versatility that would make him an ideal fit for Nolan’s multiple defense. He has experience rushing the passer standing up and with his hands in the dirt, can drop back in shallow coverage (27 career passes defensed), and even play inside if asked to. More than that, Sheard excels at creating pressure:
I've shamelessly taken @SethWalder's chart of Pass Rush Win Rate (Y axis) versus double team rate (X axis) and circled some key free agents.— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) March 4, 2020
Wouldn't be surprised if whoever ends up paying Ngakoue (at the price he's rumored to be going for) comes to regret it pic.twitter.com/ycqcyEjOdo
The story for the Cowboys’ pass rush last year was about how both DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn were tops in the NFL in pass rush win rate despite also being near the top in double team rate. Well, Sheard was double teamed more than Quinn and nearly as much as Lawrence, and finished slightly behind Yannick Ngakoue, Von Miller, and Khalil Mack in pass rush win rate.
In short, Sheard is an effective pass rusher who can overcome double teams better than most. In addition to that, he’s consistent: throughout his nine-year career, Sheard has only once registered less than five sacks and has played in 134 out of a possible 144 career games. Sheard represents high upside as a complementary edge rusher, which would pair well with Lawrence.
The one thing that might prevent him from joining the Cowboys is their sudden logjam at the position. The team has high hopes for recently reinstated Aldon Smith, and they drafted Bradlee Anae to join a position battle featuring Tyrone Crawford, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Jalen Jelks, Joe Jackson, and Ron’Dell Carter. And Randy Gregory could also return.
Of course, it’s never a bad thing to have a long list of pass rushing options, and if the Cowboys can ink Sheard to a bargain-bin deal, he could pay off in a big way.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick
Cornerback was undoubtedly the team’s weakest position group heading into the draft after Byron Jones hit the jackpot in Miami. The Cowboys did a good job of addressing the position by getting steals in both Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson, but there are still question marks.
Prior to the draft, Dallas was reportedly interested in signing former Bengals starter Dre Kirkpatrick. The selections of Diggs and Robinson seems to have cut off that interest, but like edge rushers, you can never have too many good cornerbacks these days. And Kirkpatrick has been sneaky good in Cincinnati throughout his eight-year career:
Per NGS, when Kirkpatrick was the nearest defender he had a -2.7% catch rate allowed against expectation and allowed just 6.9 yards per target in 2019.— David Howman, #Team40Burger (@_DH44_) April 19, 2020
From 2013-2017 Kirkpatrick was also a ballhawk, snagging 10 picks and tallying 52 PBUs.— David Howman, #Team40Burger (@_DH44_) April 19, 2020
While those numbers dropped the last two years, the coverage stats show he was still pretty spectacular in coverage
During that 2013-2017 stretch where Kirkpatrick frequently made plays on the ball, his defensive coordinators were Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther, both of whom ran a very similar scheme to the one new senior defensive assistant George Edwards is well-versed in. Perhaps Kirkpatrick’s familiarity with Edwards’ styles makes him more appealing.
As with Sheard, there’d be questions about how much playing time he could earn, but if the veteran corner is willing to sign a cheap deal he could provide great depth at the very least, and potentially offer a lot more than that.
S Reshad Jones
The Cowboys are likely going to be rolling out Xavier Woods and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as their two starting safeties, but they probably know it’s not a bad idea to have three starting-caliber safeties. Otherwise they wouldn’t be interested in Adams.
But since an Adams trade seems unlikely, Dallas can still “settle” for another accomplished safety in Reshad Jones. A ten-year veteran, Jones has spent the entirety of his career with the Dolphins thus far, but after missing 12 games with an injury last year and a general trend towards younger players, Miami opted to release him.
Jones has had an impressive career, as the only player from the 2010 Dolphins team to have stuck around through the 2019 season. He put together Pro Bowl seasons in both 2015 and 2017 and has accumulated 21 picks, three forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 10.5 sacks, and six defensive touchdowns throughout his career.
Jones played free safety for the first seven years of his career, but declining production resulted in a move to more of a box safety role. As a result, he played so well that he was named to his second Pro Bowl. Jones followed it up with another productive year in 2018, where he allowed a 56.1% completion rate, 66.7 passer rating, and just two touchdowns in coverage.
Jones struggled early on in the 2019 season, as did the rest of a Dolphins squad adjusting to a radically new coaching staff. He suffered a season-ending injury after four games, but the longtime team captain can still contribute in 2020. Alongside Woods and Clinton-Dix, Jones could take on a rotational role in the secondary, either functioning in the box as a run stopper (Jones has posted 100+ tackles in three separate seasons) or playing deep while one of the other two gets deployed as a pass rusher.
Bringing Jones to Dallas would reunite him with two familiar faces as well. Nolan was the Dolphins defensive coordinator for Jones’ first two years in the NFL, and Edwards was the linebackers coach for the next two years of his career. These two coaches should be familiar with Jones, which could lead to a very valuable role for Jones in this refurbished defense.