The first major Dallas Cowboys injury of 2020 didn’t take long. Gerald McCoy is reportedly out for the season with a ruptured quad, requiring surgery. He was coincidentally the first outside free agent to sign with the team this year. His deal engendered a lot of excitement as a signal that things were changing with Mike McCarthy now the head coach. While he is aging in football terms, he also was seen as a real upgrade at defensive tackle. All that is now lost, leaving Dallas with several options to sort through to replace him.
His loss may well be felt through the year, as he was still seen as a very good player. But all teams suffer injuries in training camp, even without the additional risk of preseason games this year. And all NFL staffs prepare for the eventuality. You can be sure that the Cowboys have some plans and options to replace him. Here are some of the possibilities:
Roll with what you have - at least for now
McCoy is a big body-blow to the defensive line, but the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. The Cowboys still have options on the roster.
Dontari Poe - Yes, he’s a 1-tech where McCoy is a 3-tech, but assuming Poe is activated from PUP, he should make the guy next to him better.
Trysten Hill - This is a golden opportunity for the second-year player to justify the second-round pick used to get him. He seems to be showing up a bit more. Always a project, he hopefully has made some real progress.
Neville Gallimore - It is tough to expect a rookie taken in the third round to step into a starting role, but the Cowboys reportedly had a higher grade on him. He also might be more of a rotational player, with more snaps now coming his way.
Stephen Jones indicated that this is the current plan.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones addressing Gerald McCoy’s season-ending injury, said Neville Gallimore and Trysten Hill will need to step up. Also mentioned Tyrone Crawford can move inside if needed. Cowboys aren’t planning on adding anyone at DT right now.— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 17, 2020
(Video via Dallas Cowboys) pic.twitter.com/s3c38vk3uO
Antwaun Woods - The almost forgotten man of the defensive line, Woods played mostly as a 1-tech last year, but he is not nearly as big as Poe, and may be looked at for some work as a 3-tech.
Tyrone Crawford - He was expected to be used more as a defensive end this season after McCoy was signed, but other developments may move him back to DT as his primary role. He certainly has plenty of experience. Coming off an injury, he will have to stay healthy, but it’s a good bet he will see more work now in the interior of the defensive line - especially with the Cowboys looking to use more 3-4 sets, which would probably put him as a DE there flanking Poe.
Justin Hamilton - Also thought of as more of a 1-tech, he has been a journeyman at best in his prior seasons with other teams. He spent all of a week with the Cowboys last season, signed as a replacement for the injured Crawford and then released when Michael Bennett joined the team. But Dallas saw enough in him to get him inked on a reserve/future contract back in January. A long shot, he still has an opportunity to prove himself.
Crawford is just one clear example, but that idea of going with three down lineman and standing a pass rusher or two up is one way to use scheme and position flexibility to address McCoy’s loss.
Aldon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, and newly-signed Everson Griffen, who makes Crawford more likely to move inside, all can be put in as 3-techs on passing downs. They are a different thing than guards are used to facing. The defensive plan is to be more creative, and this just forces that. Those three are very good players to have for the plan.
Signing another free agent
The pickings are slim, but here are a few names that the Cowboys might look at.
Damon Harrison - “Snacks” is probably the best talent available, although he is seen as more a 3-4 DT and at 350 lbs, would be a 1-tech for Dallas. But he also has a history of being disruptive and getting a few sacks. It might be interesting to see what Jim Tomsula might cook up with him on the roster, possibly on the field at the same time as Poe. The Cowboys also seem to be favoring bigger players at DT overall.
Marcell Dareus - Another player who is more in the 1-tech mold at around 330 lbs, he has been much more productive rushing the passer in the past, with 37.5 sacks over his nine year career. However, he has fallen off in recent seasons. It is not certain how much he has left, but the Cowboys may want to kick the tires.
Daniel Wise - A real sleeper, Wise was on the Dallas practice squad last season, which means Leon Lett, one of the few holdovers on the staff, is familiar with him. That may be something that makes him more attractive to the team, especially with the limited practices available to get someone ready. He also would not be another aging veteran.
Those are just some of the options the Cowboys have in filling the void left by McCoy. This is the first big challenge for the staff, and will not be the last one. It will be instructive to see how they actually approach things.