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Cowboys free agency: Predicting which key defensive free agents will be back in Dallas for 2021

Predicting the future off some defensive free agents.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Besides extending quarterback Dak Prescott, fixing the defense should be the Cowboys’ top priority this offseason. The Dallas defense was historically bad in 2020. The unit gave up 29.6 points per game, fifth-most in the NFL. They also surrendered 28 or more points in nine of their 16 games. You’re not going to win many games doing that.

The defense was dreadful against the run. Their 2,541 rushing yards given up on the season were the second-most in the entire league, and opponents rushed for 125 total yards or more 10 times. Four times, Dallas gave up 200 plus on the ground, including giving up 307 to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.

It’s safe to say the defense is in need of some turnover, but the Cowboys just don’t have the cap space to completely tear things down and start again. More importantly, they can’t waste the prime of their star quarterback trying to completely rebuild this defense. The Cowboys will have to find a middle ground between completely starting anew, and just running things back and hoping the result is different.

To start this process, the first task they’ll have to tackle is deciding which of their key defensive free agents they want to bring back. Dallas has five unrestricted defensive free agents that played a key role on the team last season. Three members of the secondary, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods will all hit the market. So will veterans Aldon Smith and Sean Lee.

The Cowboys clearly won’t be able, and probably won’t want to, bring all five of these guys back. They’ll likely have space to bring two to three back, depending on their price tags. So, if you were looking into a crystal ball to see the future, how many of these five players do you think will be back in Dallas in 2021? We asked our front-page writers the same question and here’s what they had to say.

Now on to the BTB writers free agency predictions...

Tom Ryle:

It’s a tough question. I’m pretty certain Sean Lee will retire, possibly with an offer from the team to be a coach. Aldon Smith is very iffy, because he may have shown enough to get offered enough from another team to price himself out of Dallas. The three DBs are the most likely to return, because that is such a need for the Cowboys. However, I don’t think all three will be back, again due to salary cap concerns. My best guess is that Awuzie and Woods are brought back if they are not too pricey, with Lewis a lower cost option should Awuzie’s price be too high. In any case, I predict two will be all that we see from your list. (edited)

David Howman:

It’s a really tough question to get a feel for just because we don’t know yet how big of a voice Dan Quinn will have. Rumor is he had personnel control the last few years in Atlanta, so does he have something like that for the defense here? If so, I wouldn’t expect too many players to return. Aldon Smith seemed a lot more likely to return before Jim Tomsula was let go. I think Dallas brings back either Chido or Lewis, since both should be cheap, and Xavier Woods seems like a safe, cheap option if they can’t get their top targets in free agency. I expect Sean Lee to retire, but if he doesn’t then he’ll definitely be back. But it’s hard to justify shelling out big money to keep any of these guys after how poor this defense played in 2020, so change should be on the horizon.

Terence Watson:

The Cowboys offseason after Dak Prescott looks to be focusing on the defensive side of the football. With quite a few big names hitting the free agent market and with their still being questions about just how much money teams will get for the 2021 salary cap, it could be tougher for the Cowboys to keep players. The players I believe will return are Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, and Aldon Smith. When the Cowboys want to keep certain players they find ways to do so. All three of these guys were big time contributors. While I see players like Sean Lee, Jourdan Lewis and Tyrone Crawford leaving either by free agency or retirement.

Dave Halprin:

I opined on a similar question to this a little while ago. In that article I came to the conclusion that out of those five, the Cowboys will only bring one back, and that is Xavier Woods on a short-term deal. I’ve put Sean Lee in the retired category, and I think someone will throw some crazy money at Aldon Smith that the Cowboys won’t match. The Cowboys will rebuild their cornerback room through the draft and a free agent from the outside, letting Awuzie and Lewis go on deals from other teams that will be larger that what the team wants to give.

Matt Holleran:

On the defensive side of the ball, I think big change is coming in Dallas. I believe all three members of the 2017 draft class will leave the Cowboys in free agency. Chidobe Awuzie’s inability to stay on the field will likely cause Dallas to be cautious of giving him a long-term deal, and Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods just did not show enough this season to warrant a new deal. If I had to pick one, I think Lewis has the best shot at a return, but I believe new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will want to bring in some new guys in the secondary and start fresh. As for the two veterans, I see Dallas bringing Aldon Smith back on a two or three-year deal, and Sean Lee hanging up the cleats, but joining Mike McCarthy’s coaching staff in some capacity.

Let us know in the comments section below which free agents of the group you believe will be back in Dallas next season.