The Dallas Cowboys aren’t expected to be big players in free agency. That’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to how this front office works. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have their sights set on certain players. Should the team have any inclination to open up their wallet, they would be wise to take a long and hard look at defensive tackles as that position remains one of their biggest weaknesses entering the new season.
The team currently has two promising young defensive tackles in Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore as they have been Day 2 draft investments in each of the last two years. These guys have many similar traits as they get off the snap quickly and have good agility to get around blockers. However, what they don’t posses is great anchoring ability to absorb blocks. They can play with poor pad level, allowing them to get pushed around in the running game. For that reason, neither of these guys are ideal for the 1-tech spot along the interior defensive line.
In terms of the 1-tech, the team will bring Antwaun Woods back as a restricted free agent. While he’s been okay at times, he’s not the answer.
The Cowboys would like to find some answers in the draft, but it’s hard to say if the stars will line up well enough to land an impact player. The team’s first-round pick won’t be used for a defensive tackle as there aren’t any players at that position who would warrant that type of investment. However, Day 2 might again bring about another opportunity to find another young talent. NC State’s Alim McNeil is an intriguing name to keep an eye on. Our own Connor Livesay mentioned McNeil back in January as someone to watch.
The athleticism, size, power, and overall fluidity is just phenomenal for a 335-lb human being. Still relatively new to the position, as he was a linebacker and running back coming into NC State, so the ceiling is sky-high with proper usage and coaching. Can play in even and odd fronts due to his ability to one- and two-gap, and hold up against double teams.
The Cowboys may turn to free agency to address the position, but we know how they typically go about that. If you had your heart set on one of the strong defensive tackles on the market like say, Dalvin Tomlinson, it would have been wise to temper your expectations. Players like Tomlinson and Shelby Harris are already off the market as they signed deals for more than what the Cowboys front office was willing to spend.
Instead, let’s look a little further down the list to see what players might be more in their price range. Additionally, let’s focus on true nose tackles who specialize in run support. Many suspect last year’s free agent “prize” Gerald McCoy to return, but this team needs a stronger 1-tech DT who can occupy blockers. With that in mind, here are a couple players the Cowboys should strongly consider targeting in free agency.
The 320-pound defensive tackle has been a player of interest for this fan ever since he was the last person selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Had the Cowboys not picked Byron Jones with the 27th overall pick, Brown would’ve been the next guy on my wish list. While he’s never shown any level of dominance in the trenches, he’s been a very reliable player throughout his entire career.
Drafted by the New England Patriots, his fifth-year option wasn’t exercised and Brown hit free agency in 2019. The New Orleans Saints signed him to a three-year, $15 million deal and he’s been just as reliable for them, helping their run defense to a fourth-best 3.9 yards per attempt last year. Brown is just one piece of a very strong defensive tackle ensemble, which is a reason the Saints can afford to release him as they continue along with a myriad of cap reducing moves.
And this reasoning is one of the perks of Browns appeal in the free agent market. The Saints are having their hand forced when it comes to personnel moves due to the hole they are in financially. This has nothing to do with Brown’s ability on the field. And when it comes to what he has to offer, his skills would fit perfectly with what the Cowboys need at the position.
Brown is a very smart player who can read plays quickly, allowing him to get in position to fight off his blocks. And it’s this ability to dislodge that makes him such a good run defender. He moves well lateral, shows nice hand placement, and his regular shedding of blocks helps him disrupt the play. He also has a great motor to run down plays.
He’s not a spectacular player, and if that is what you’re looking for here, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, Brown gives you something that has been severely lacking at the nose position - the consistent ability to do his part of the play. He requires others on the defense to do their job to be effective, which is why he’s had so much success with the Patriots and Saints. It’s not going to resolve all of the team’s inadequacies in the run game, but it would certainly be a good start.
A fourth-round pick by the Tennessee Titans in 2014, the 322-pound nose offers a lot of similar traits as Brown. His football instincts allows him to work towards the direction of the play, keeping him involved in the action. He is able to drop anchor, hold his ground, and does a nice job fending off double teams. His consistency against the run is a valued commodity.
Jones has been a staple of the Titans interior defensive line, racking up 235 tackles over his seven-year career. He has started all 16 games in five of his last six seasons, missing just four games in 2017. Jones’ contribution in the trenches can go a little unappreciated as he’s taken on double teams to allow teammates like Jeffery Simmons, Jurrell Casey and Jayon Brown capitalize on one-on-one matchups.
His ability in the trenches would allow the other players along the front seven to more effectively do their job, in particular, the linebackers. Having a reliable block-absorber to keep linemen from consistently penetrating to the second level would instantly make things easier for Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
Are you interested in either of these two defensive tackles or do you have your heart set on someone else? If so, share who you want and what you’d be willing to see the Cowboys pay to bring them to Dallas.