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Cowboys 2021 free agents on defense: Who stays and who goes

Trying to read the tea leaves for the Cowboys defensive free agents.

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Previously, we took a look at the Cowboys offensive free agents for 2021 to hazard some guesses about whether they will return or not. Today, we move to the other side of the ball to determine the fate of the defensive free agents (and one special teamer).

Unrestricted

DE Aldon Smith

It’s a tricky one right out of the gate. When the season began, Aldon Smith looked like he was going to return to the form of his younger days. He was leading the Cowboys in sacks and was among the league leaders through the first quarter of the season. Then his production stalled. He ended the year with five sacks and had two fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown.

The Cowboys would probably like to keep him around as a third guy with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. If Smith is inclined to give the Cowboys a break on a deal since they brought him back into the league, then something could get worked out.

Prediction: Smith is offered a bigger contract than the Cowboys are willing to match from a team with a mountain of cap space.

CB Chidobe Awuzie

The Cowboys 2017 draft splash in the secondary is up for renewal. Awuzie had his moments in Dallas, but it was never consistent and he never really became a playmaker on the ball. He’s showed enough that he will generate interest around the league, and the Cowboys may be ready to rebuild their secondary with players that fit their scheme and techniques. Plus, teams tend to overpay for corners in free agency.

Prediction: Awuzie ends up signing a multi-year deal elsewhere.

CB Jourdan Lewis

Much like Awuzie, Lewis has never cemented his status as a guy you can depend on all the time. He could make some big plays, but he could also look in poor form and undisciplined. The Cowboys need to remake their defense, so Lewis is likely not a priority.

Prediction: Lewis ends up signing a multi-year deal elsewhere.

S Xavier Woods

The third defensive back of the 2017 trio, Woods was tipped for stardom after some promising early seasons, but never reached those heights. Bad angles seem to be one of his bigger issues and he also doesn’t make a whole lot of plays on the ball. Donovan Wilson has eclipsed him in production at the safety spot. Still, the Cowboys do need a second safety and Woods still has potential if someone can get it out of him.

Prediction: The Cowboys sign him to one-year prove-it deal with lots of incentives.

LB Sean Lee

If only he could have stayed healthy. In his prime, no one read a defense better than Lee and he had the athleticism to make the play. His body let him down and he’s now moved into a full-time reserve role. Is it time he hung the cleats up and moved into a coaching role?

Prediction: Lee retires and starts his coaching career in Dallas.

DL Tyrone Crawford

Crawford put in a lot of serviceable years for the Cowboys and his versatility was an amazing asset. But he was always saddled with expectations from a contract that was too big for his skills.

Prediction: The Cowboys will move on and Crawford will have to decide if he wants to play elsewhere.

LB Joe Thomas

Thomas is a bench player who can be put into a game without fearing it will be a total disaster. He also can play special teams. The Cowboys will be thin at linebacker if Lee retires, Thomas is the kind of vet teams like to have.

Prediction: The Cowboys re-sign Thomas, mainly to help on special teams but also as a safety valve on defense.

LB Justin March

March has been reduced to a special teams guy, not getting any snaps on defense. If this were a year with an increasing salary cap, the Cowboys might be interested in bringing him back. But with limited financial resources, it’s hard to justify paying a veteran in this spot.

Prediction: March gets a low-cost deal to play on another team.

CB C.J. Goodwin

John Fassel will probably do everything in his power to make the Cowboys keep Goodwin. He is that good on special teams.

Prediction: The Cowboys re-sign Goodwin.

DT Eli Ankou

Ankou was a mid-season addition that was a rotation guy. He wasn’t terrible, but didn’t bring a lot to the table.

Prediction: Cowboys let him sign elsewhere if he can get a contract.

Restricted

DT Antwaun Woods

The Cowboys waited forever to re-sign Woods last offseason but he actually can be disruptive at times. He will no longer be a starter with Neville Gallimore and Trysten Hill in the fold, along with Gerald McCoy if they bring him back, but he can help in a rotation.

Prediction: Cowboys keep him.

Exclusive Rights

DE Ron’Dell Carter

The Cowboys like his potential and want to see where it goes.

Prediction: He is back for another year.

Special Teams

LS L.P. Ladouceur

As long as he doesn’t retire, he will be the guy.

Prediction: He retires and it will be time to look for a new long snapper.