While it is pretty unlikely the Cowboys will make any significant changes to their roster before the team heads to Oxnard, there are still some spots they could look to make a minor upgrade if the price is right. One of the potential positions they could look to improve at is the linebacker spot.
Early in the offseason, it looked like the Dallas linebacking corps would look a lot different this upcoming season than it did in 2021. It seemed like former first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch would be on his way out, but the Cowboys surprisingly brought the linebacker back on a one-year deal in March.
Vander Esch, along with a now healthy Jabril Cox, and All-Pro Micah Parsons, will be Dallas’ main contributors at linebacker in the upcoming season. Fifth-round pick Damone Clark is the true wild card of the group, but it seems highly unlikely he will be able to play at all this season and likely will be sidelined till the start of the 2023 campaign.
Taking a look at the group, with how much Parsons rushed the passer last season (almost one-third of his defensive snaps came as a pass-rusher), it’s hard to even consider him a true “linebacker”, so it’s really up to Vander Esch and Cox to man the position.
While this isn’t a bad linebacking duo, it certainly has some question marks, one of those being health. Since entering the league in 2018, Vander Esch has had his fair share of battles with injuries. From 2019 to 2020, the linebacker missed a combined 13 games dealing with various injuries.
Second-year man Jabril Cox is coming off playing in just seven games, recording nine defensive snaps, before tearing his ACL against the Giants, so his health is also no sure thing.
This close to training camp the Cowboys aren’t going to go out and acquire a star-studded linebacker to completely change their defense. However, they could look at a cheap option to give them some insurance in case Vander Esch or Cox once again go down.
If they do look to make a move, former Cowboy Anthony Hitchens makes sense as an affordable addition to strengthen the bottom of the roster. Hitchens was recently named as one “veteran free agent the Cowboys must consider before training camp” in an article by Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report.
Here’s what he had to say about why a Hitchens/Cowboys reunion makes sense.
Dallas should be willing to throw multiple darts at its problematic run defense, and former Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens is worth a look, The 30-year-old is coming off a four-year run with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he largely served as a run-stopper. In 15 games last season, he logged 80 tackles, 41 solo stops and four tackles for loss.
The Cowboys have experienced a lot of change since Hitchens last played for them in 2017. However, a few of his former teammates—including Lawrence, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown—are still on the team. There would be at least a little familiarity there, which would be a nice bonus. The biggest reason Dallas could consider the Iowa product, though, is price point. With a few notable exceptions—like Bobby Wagner and Myles Jack—off-ball linebackers haven’t commanded a ton of money this offseason. Jordan Hicks, for example, signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings for $5 million annually.
While he may not have completely lived up to the contract the Kansas City Chiefs gave him back in 2018, Hitchens was a solid contributor during his four years in KC. The linebacker played in 59 of the 67 regular season games during this span, recording at least 78 total tackles in all four seasons. Hitchens’ 79.0 tackling grade, posted during the 2021 season, was the second-highest of his career, via Pro Football Focus,
At this point of his career Anthony Hitchens isn’t going to come in and completely change the Cowboys defense. What he could do is provide a dependable, veteran option at the linebacker spot that has proven he’s capable of staying on the field, and playing at a decent level if one of Dallas’ main contributors at the position were to go down.
It wouldn’t cost the Cowboys much, and Hitchens likely is better than the current other backup options they have at the linebacker spot, so a reunion could make sense for both sides.