The Cowboys made some headlines on Tuesday when Stephen Jones tried to ease the loss of Randy Gregory by praising Dorance Armstrong in an interview at 105.3 The Fan. Jones said Armstrong is “right there” when it comes to matching Gregory’s production, though the Cowboys surely wanted Gregory back and only lost him to the Broncos on a contract technicality.
The Dallas front office has never had a problem selling their offseason plan of focusing on internal free agents and the draft, but this year’s crop of “we like our guys” signings have some big shoes to fill.
Michael Gallup and Noah Brown are being asked to help ease the loss of Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, while Armstrong is just one candidate to take over at the defensive end spot opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. Fortunately, the Cowboys outside free agent signings have also addressed these positions, with James Washington and Dante Fowler setting the team up nicely to draft for their biggest need on the offensive line.
Armstrong had a career high five sacks this season, bringing his career total to 7.5 after being drafted in 2018. The Cowboys are betting on Dan Quinn getting the most out of a lot of players in his second season as defensive coordinator, and Armstrong is firmly on this list as they hope 2021 was the start of a breakout.
Some mock drafts have the Cowboys giving Armstrong and Lawrence further help by adding a defensive end like George Karlaftis as early as the first round. The team has made their intentions clear to keep Micah Parsons as a chess piece on defense, with part of his role being pass rush. The Cowboys should have a similar goal for Armstrong, who benefited from moving around Quinn’s defense and rushing the passer in multiple spots.
“Honestly, it would be the same with or without Randy. He’s a guy we lost but I’ll be doing the same thing playing end, inside, and special teams. Nothing much will change.”
The hole left behind by Gregory for an every-down right end isn’t this team’s biggest need, and forcing opponents into passing situations is how they’ll get the most out of Armstrong, Parsons, and Fowler. Another edge rusher with some juice off the edge would certainly be a welcome addition in the draft, but can’t be counted on to make the type of immediate impact the Cowboys need from this year’s class.
The Cowboys will be asking a lot of Armstrong no matter where he lines up this season, but the same is true of Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston, and Neville Gallimore - who all can provide a pass rush from the interior. This “by committee” approach is hardly where the Cowboys wanted to be in building a defense without Gregory, but this side of the ball is always more volatile from year to year. A top coordinator like Quinn should be expected to elevate his roster, and Dallas patching their obvious needs on offense in the draft would also go a long way in helping this defense play with the lead.
Stephen Jones shouldn’t have compared Armstrong to Gregory, or brought up the cap situation that’s led the team down this path in the offseason. As the Cowboys get into on-field activities though, there’s no spot on the depth chart for cap space or pie, and their versatile group of defensive linemen looks to still be a strength. Having players that can keep Armstrong in a multiple role would keep it this way.