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Cowboys young defense could be too dependent on Dan Quinn moving forward

The Cowboys have spent 13 of their 20 draft picks on defense under Quinn.

Atlanta Falcons v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Discussing the salary cap is always a hot topic between Cowboys fans, with the team’s management of it potentially keeping them from adding talent. There are lines that jump off the page when looking at the Cowboys cap breakdown by position group or player, like Ezekiel Elliott’s contract putting Dallas at the top of the league for running back spending despite the much cheaper deals Tony Pollard and other backups are on.

Hidden Yardage took a closer look at the Cowboys cap spending up and down the depth chart, and noted how little the team is currently spending on defense overall. At 32.7% of their total cap, the Cowboys defense is 30th in the league for this category.

Both Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy have already faced their criticism for not maximizing the Cowboys offense, one that will roll into Oxnard without familiar faces Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, or Connor Williams. Coaching and scheme could have been the issue as the Cowboys offense became inefficient down the stretch last season. The opposite is true of the defense, with coordinator Dan Quinn constantly being tied to the success they found with players like Micah Parsons and Jayron Kearse.

The Cowboys are well past the point of trying to build around Dak Prescott on a rookie contract, but their new cap advantage comes in the form of Quinn’s young defense. Quinn interviewed for multiple head coaching vacancies this offseason, and will be a top candidate again if Dallas sits atop the NFC East with another strong defense.

Core players like DeMarcus Lawrence and Trevon Diggs are great starting points for any defense, but is the rest of the Cowboys success on this side of the ball too dependent on Quinn’s scheming? His ability to put players in the best position to use their skills, paired with the willingness of an experienced Mike McCarthy allowing Quinn to do his thing, could be much more than a one-year wonder in 2022 for Dallas.

Quinn himself would say he’s focused on this season for the Cowboys, but with so much lost off of last year’s 12-win team, many fans are restlessly trying to look further down the direction the Cowboys may go. NFL.com made the bold prediction that McCarthy will be fired before Thanksgiving this season, in which case Quinn would be a likely mid-season interim head coach.

The Cowboys used a lot of unique personnel groupings under Quinn last season, rarely playing with more than three defensive backs on the field. Their biggest cap hit in 2022 at cornerback is Anthony Brown with just under 3% of the cap in the final year of his deal. Quinn’s gadget player Jayron Kearse is a steal at 1.7% of the cap, with only Malik Hooker also counting as more than a full percent point against the cap at safety.

While the narrative quickly flipped last season that the Cowboys defense could be the strength of their team, they now have a full training camp to prepare for this reality. The Cowboys offense should benefit from practicing against Quinn’s defense everyday, and once they face live competition this defense will be looking to replicate their incredible turnover production.

The time is now for the Cowboys to be opportunistic while they have Quinn and his full cast of draft picks, something they haven’t had recent luck with on offense. Retaining Quinn has been a bright spot in an offseason dubbed as one that’s felt very long, but the fact this move has held up since the end of January as one of the best things the Cowboys have done since losing in the Wild Card round may not be a great sign.

It won’t be too long until these things are settled on the field, which is exactly where Quinn and this defense want to prove the league wrong about how Dallas can repeat as division winners.