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Anthony Barr deal proves the Cowboys want to improve, but other positions still need help

The Cowboys added depth at linebacker, but they still have holes at wide receiver and kicker.

NFL: NOV 10 Vikings at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

]Linebacker Anthony Barr was linked to the Cowboys about as many times as Stephen Jones mentioned the team not being done in free agency this offseason, and on Wednesday a signing months in the making finally became official. The Cowboys added the 2014 first-round pick, who comes with experience under assistant George Edwards, the defensive coordinator for the Vikings from 2014-19.

Barr is another matchup piece for Dan Quinn, with one of the Cowboys priorities on defense being keeping Micah Parsons as a do-it-all hybrid player. Through nearly two weeks in Oxnard, the Cowboys have seen Leighton Vander Esch and Jabril Cox handle some of the reps at linebacker when Parsons is set to rush the passer. Adding Barr to this mix gives them even more range and versatility, as well as a player with 17.5 career sacks.

While the Cowboys are still adamant that young and unproven players can emerge as starters at wide receiver and kicker, the Barr signing is a sharp contrast to this offseason’s approach. Dallas addressed linebacker late in the draft with Damone Clark and Devin Harper, but with Clark still recovering from neck surgery and Harper being a seventh-round pick, the need for linebacker depth remained into training camp.

Barr is much more than just a camp body to help ease the workload on Cox and Vander Esch, two players with their own injury history, but a potential starter that brings a steady veteran presence. He does come with his own injury concerns though, missing 14 games in 2020 with a torn pectoral and six more in 2021.

This is the type of signing that makes the early part of outside free agency - where the Cowboys signed only James Washington (out for 6-10 weeks with a foot injury), Dante Fowler, and Ryan Nall - look curious in their efforts to repeat as NFC East winners.

Addressing the front seven on defense adds to a recent comment from Jerry Jones, saying he sees the Cowboys identity shifting towards Quinn’s defense. Quinn nearly got away for a head coaching job in the offseason, but now is viewed as a potential heir to Mike McCarthy should the Cowboys struggle this season. For a team that uses their cap situation to justify a lack of free agent activity though, the Cowboys have massive commitments to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott on offense.

The last time the Cowboys had a depth chart at wide receiver as unknown as their current one, they traded for Amari Cooper midseason and went on to win the division. A similar move could still be on the way, whether it’s after this month’s preseason tests or once the season begins again, but for the moment the Cowboys are putting a lot of faith in their young talent. With pressure already on both Kellen Moore and McCarthy, both coaches deserve more than CeeDee Lamb as the only current receiver with a touchdown catch on the Cowboys roster.

The Cowboys are a better football team today than they were earlier in the week thanks to Anthony Barr. They deserve their credit here, with Quinn telling the media he values “speed, length, and tackling production” in linebackers before the signing was announced.

Barr brings all of these things to his new team, and though the Cowboys don’t play the same down-to-down coverages that Edwards and Mike Zimmer deployed in Minnesota, he can be another player opposing offenses struggle to identify before the snap in Quinn’s scheme.

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Cowboys silence at other glaring positions of need, be it for starters or depth, is baffling right now as camp rolls on. If the current roster had to play a game against the Buccaneers or Bengals, both Super Bowl participants from the past two seasons that come to AT&T Stadium in weeks one and two, there would be considerable pressure on the defense to keep them in the game.

The free agent market still has some big names available at receiver, but they’re likely to come at a much higher price tag than the Cowboys landed Barr at.

Adding another player with experience in tight divisional games was a step in the right direction, and the first real sign in a while that the Cowboys are will make good on the 24/7 nature of roster building they talk about. After a slower walkthrough type practice on Wednesday, the Cowboys ramp up the intensity again with padded practices on Thursday-Saturday. Anthony Barr will get his chance to help a Cowboys defense that’s continued to take the ball away and get after the quarterback in Oxnard so far.