The front office of the Dallas Cowboys have done a masterful job adding new talent to an already good football team. With free agency and the draft, it’s been a great offseason for Dallas, but how much of an impact will these new acquisitions make this season?
Last week, we revisited last year’s “new guy” predictions to see how they fared, but today we’ll look at this new crop of players and try to determine which players will have the greatest impact for the upcoming season.
10. LB Francis Bernard, UDFA
There are a couple reasons the 6’1”, 230-pound linebacker from Utah sneaks into this top ten list. The team’s commitment to get the right special teams guys make this instinctive defender an interesting dark horse candidate to land a job on the squad. Bernard recognizes plays well and has pretty good athleticism to weave through traffic and find the football.
He could be pushed aside if last year’s UDFA linebacker gem, Luke Gifford, is able to stay healthy, but that’s proven to be a tall task so far, which is the second reason Bernard could have his name called. The rookie won’t be threatening to steal many defensive reps with the Cowboys LB group rather deep, but he could end up carving out a role as a core special teams player.
9. OL Connor McGovern, returning from injured reserve
When the Cowboys selected McGovern in the third round of last year’s draft, it was thought he could challenge Connor Williams for the starting left guard position. There was also a belief Williams might slide to the outside to replace La’el Collins as he was in the final year of his contract. A pectoral injury squashed those hopes as he never saw any action last season, making him “new guy” eligible.
McGovern may still be in the mix at left guard as the other Connor hasn’t been able to stay healthy in each of his first two seasons in the league. Williams has bulked up, but does his knees have the strength to take the continuous pounding on the interior line? McGovern also has center flexibility and could challenge Joe Looney for his starting spot. Sure, rookie Tyler Biadasz is the new toy the team couldn’t pass up in the draft, but let’s not forget how excited they were to land McGovern last season.
8. DE Randy Gregory, returning from suspension
The Cowboys 2015 second-round pick has been of little use to the team so far after his reliance on cannabis to self medicate has resulted in multiple violations of the league’s drug policy. Multiple suspensions have caused him to miss two of the last three seasons and now his future remains in limbo. His situation is rather murky considering we don’t know what’s up with the supposed appeal that’s been filed or how the league would even respond.
The league is allegedly relaxing their marijuana testing/threshold policy, which seems like it would open a door for a Gregory return. The last season he did play was in 2018 where he played in 45% of the defensive snaps, third-most of any defensive end behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. He had six sacks that year. It’s hard to predict how this will play out, but we’re going with Gregory returning, having a small pass rushing role, and contributing to some extent.
7. DT Dontari Poe, free agent from Carolina Panthers
The signing of Poe may turn out to quietly be one of the best offseason moves this team has made as he finally gives the Cowboys a quality 1-tech defensive tackle. In past seasons, this is an area the team always seems to undervalue and fill with unskilled bodies (no offense, Antwaun Woods) to just absorb blocks. Well, Poe is a great block absorber. With great lower body strength and decent technique, he can be a handful at the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys linebackers will benefit from this upgrade.
We’d be inclined to suggest his value would be a little higher on this list, but it starts to get real competitive at this point. Not only that, but he’ll be 30 come the start of the season, and he’s coming off a quad injury that ended his season prematurely last year. There is always risk when you sign older free agents to fill voids, and the Cowboys could feel some of those effects.
6. CB Trevon Diggs, second-round pick
There is a lot of excitement surrounding the selection of Diggs in the second round as his name came up as a possible first-round target for the Cowboys. He’s got the ideal frame for an NFL corner and does a great job diagnosing the play and closing on the receiver. But most refreshing is how he shows up to make plays on the ball, which is something that has been sorely missed from the Cowboys cornerback crew.
The team has gotten plenty of contribution from rookie cornerbacks in past seasons, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Diggs land an outside corner spot right from the get go. Inevitably, there will be some growing pains, but even with a solid group of players already on the roster, look for him to get a good share of the cornerback reps this season.
5. DE Aldon Smith, returning from four-year hiatus
Probably one of the hardest players to predict, former All-Pro edge rusher Aldon Smith is returning to football, and he’s doing it in a Cowboys uniform. In May, he was conditionally reinstated by the NFL after a four-year absence from the league. But in actuality, he’s out of sync even longer than that as his last three seasons in the league were all cut short due to some type of leave of absence/suspension. He hasn’t played a full season since 2012 when he just so happened to record 19.5 sacks that year.
It’s still a mystery as to what this former stud edge rusher can do after so much time off, but his skill set may offer the team a very nice rotational piece to their pass rushing arsenal.
4. K Greg Zuerlein, free agent from Los Angeles Rams
The Cowboys kicking game was absolutely horrid last season and a big contributing factor was the accuracy of Brett Maher. After missing ten field goals last season, the Cowboys ranked second to last in FG percentage, forcing the team to finally waive the white flag on Maher. The Cowboys replaced him with Kia Forbath, who knocked down all ten of his field goal attempts with the Cowboys. The team re-signed him to one year deal for 2020, but are only on the hook for $137,500 of that should they go a different direction.
Enter Zuerlein, who the Cowboys also signed to their roster this offseason. The team’s commitment is a little higher in him as both his signing bonus and 2020 salary are guaranteed ($2.25 M). Of course, this means absolutely nothing as the team should have a good old fashion kicking battle come training camp.
Zuerlein is coming off a season where he missed nine field goals, but he was dealing with injuries last year. Prior to last season, he had one of the best legs in the game. If he emerges victorious in the kicking battle, his contribution should be significant this year.
3. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, free agent from Chicago Bears
Similar to what the team has done to upgrade the 1-tech defensive tackle position, they’ve went about it with the same approach for their new safety by adding a reasonably priced free agent. But unlike Poe, Ha Ha Clinton Dix is just 27 years old and has never missed a game in his six-year NFL career.
He isn’t a star playmaker by any means, but he’s a really solid coverage safety who quietly produces year in and year out. He’s had more interceptions in the last five years than all of the Cowboys starting safety tandems in that same time span. Sliding him alongside Xavier Woods should give the Cowboys one of the top safety duo’s this team has seen in a while, and some even have this group ranked top five in the league. Regardless how accurate that claim is, the addition of Clinton-Dix is a nice improvement to the Cowboys safety group.
2. WR CeeDee Lamb, first-round pick
The Cowboys top rookie this year isn’t a player we prepared for as it was believed he’d be long gone before Dallas was on the clock, but luckily for all of us - that wasn’t the case. In his three seasons at Oklahoma, CeeDee Lamb had 173 catches for 3,292 yards, averaging out 19.0 yards per reception. He also hauled in 32 touchdowns.
Lamb’s ceiling is incredibly high, but rookie receivers don’t typically shine right away. Not only that, but he’s got a couple pretty good teammates, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, who will be grabbing a lot of targets. Even so, Lamb should make a noticeable splash as he provides a jolt to this high-powered Cowboys offense.
1. DT Gerald McCoy, free agent from Carolina Panthers
The Cowboys most expensive free agent expenditure this offseason came in the form of six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. He’s not the same game-wrecker as he was a few years ago, but he’s still a very effective defensive tackle. He’s had eight straight seasons with at least five sacks, but what really makes him valuable is what he provides in run support. McCoy is fundamentally sound, which allows him to be successful despite losing some of his athleticism. His hands and long reach allow him to shed blockers and get into the backfield.
Alone, McCoy is a solid addition to this defense, but when you take the sum of all the parts - that is where his value will really show up. He’s going to make DeMarcus Lawrence better and he’s going to make Leighton Vander Esch better. And it’s these types of upgrades that can really help take the Cowboys defense to the next level.