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One defensive player the Cowboys should retain this offseason

Which defender would you prioritize brining back in 2021?

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

On March 17th, the will be 18 Dallas Cowboys players becoming unrestricted free agents. While this is not an unusually high number for an NFL team, Dallas likely will part ways with a considerable group of players. Change will be a prevalent theme in Big D this spring, and the Cowboys that take the field in September may look a lot different than the ones we saw in January.

The biggest changes will most likely take place on the defensive side of the ball. Unless the Cowboys shock the football world and decide to part ways with Dak Prescott, their offense will remain relatively the same. The defense, however, will not.

A new defensive coaching staff, headlined by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, will look to simplify the overall defensive scheme. In the process of doing so, they made decide to start fresh and end some player’s tenures in Dallas.

The Cowboys can’t let everyone go, and they will need to bring back some of their own. Today we start a three-part series on the Dallas defense. We’ll break down one player the Cowboys should retain, one player they should cut, and one player they should trade this offseason.

The player the Cowboys should retain is Aldon Smith.

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

31-year-old Aldon Smith is the player the Cowboys should be most focused on keeping this offseason. Towards the beginning of the 2020 season, Smith looked like the All-Pro that we saw in San Francisco. In the Cowboys’ first five games, he was a menace to opposing quarterbacks. The defensive end recorded 16 total tackles, 15 hurries, 8 quarterback hits, and 4 sacks.

After Week 5, Smith was fifth in the NFL with 25 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The four guys ahead of him, Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Myles Garrett, and Shaquil Barrett are all top-tier pass-rushers.

Despite cooling down considerably after the first five weeks, Smith still finished the season with some solid numbers. He ranked 12th in the NFL with 35 quarterback hurries and 20th in the NFL with 50 total pressures. Smith received a PFF pass-rush grade of 70 for the entire season, which is still above league average.

Even if Smith won’t consistently be able to be the guy he was in weeks one through five, he still is worth bringing back for a few reasons. The first is the trio of Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory would pretty much eliminate any need to acquire another edge rusher in free agency. This would give Dallas a chance to find some beef in the middle and acquire a quality run-stopping defensive tackle.

The second reason would be, can Dallas really trust Randy Gregory? On the field, Gregory showed some great flashes. The former second-round pick had 25 total pressures in just 10 games. But still, Gregory is yet to play in back-to-back seasons without a suspension in his NFL career. From all accounts, things are going well, and we hope most importantly for his sake that continues, but it is something that has to be considered.

With the holes they have on the back end of their defense, Dallas will have to attribute a lot of resources to fix their secondary this spring. Instead of being forced to use a draft pick, or get into a bidding war for a free agent at edge rusher, Dallas would be wise to lock up Aldon Smith before he even enters free agency on March 17th.