The Position Breakdown Series is taking every position group for the Dallas Cowboys and looking at the players, their rankings, contract numbers and predicting the upcoming season for each player.
This edition is looking at the defensive ends for Dallas, so let’s get straight to it.
Micah Parsons #11
Experience: 3 years
College: Penn State Nittany Lions
Defensive Stops: 42
Cap Cost- $4,658,125 (% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $10,092,604
Base Salary- $2,212,708
Signing Bonus- $2,445,417
Tom - Look, Dan Quinn may insist Parsons is more than just a defensive end, but the reality is DE, or LEO as Ourlads has him designated, is where he is going to spend the most time and have the biggest impact. And that is one huge impact. When Parsons is on the field, teams have to account for him, and are likely looking for double teams or help. That makes life better for everyone else on defense over and above the big plays Parsons will still fight through and make.
Mike - This is a no-brainer. Parsons has been the main ingredient that’s helped transform this defense to the monster it’s become over the last couple of years. Even though we list him in the defensive end position group, playing Parsons at a range of positions like rushing from the inside, coming around the edge, or with his hand down in the three-point stance, makes it hard for offensive coordinators to game plan for him and this becomes a strength. The question isn’t whether he can repeat his production, the question is can he play high enough to be named Defensive Player of the Year, something he’s been in the mix for since his rookie year.
DeMarcus Lawrence #90
Experience: 10 years
College: Boise State Broncos
Defensive Stops: 44
Cap Cost- $17,110,000 (7.4% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $38,000,000
Base Salary- $1,665,000
Signing Bonus- $8,000,000
Tom - Lawrence does not get as much attention from the media and fans as he should, because he doesn’t have tons of sacks. The reason for that is he gets a ton of attention on the field, and his contributions go beyond the count of how many sacks he gets. He is one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the league, and he is a direct contributor to the effectiveness of Parsons, because they can’t take both of them out of the play. If he was the best the Cowboys had, the team would be in fine shape. With both of them, they have one of the best pass rushes in the league. And there are more riches to consider.
Mike - It’s funny everyone talks about how important it is to stop the run, but the only thing people care about at the end of the season with defensive ends is sack totals. Last year among edge defenders, Lawrence was second in tackles (54), second in defensive stops (49), and fourth in forced fumbles (3). He was on a defense that uses a heavy rotation system, so that meant last year his snap count was lower than most starters, but yet he ranked at the top in stopping the run. Because he’s not flashy by getting all the pressures and sacks, a lot of people regularly overlook Tank and what he does on defense. But maybe his most important quality that no stat sheet can calculate is his leadership and mentorship to the younger players. His importance to the team and the players is something that’s mentioned every year by the new guys and that has to be taken into account with Lawrence. Given his age we should see much more of the same as last year with him getting rotational work, but that helps him with his health.
Dorance Armstrong #92
Experience: 6 years
College: Kansas Jayhawks
Defensive Stops: 25
Cap Cost- $7,250,000 (3.1% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $3,000,000
Base Salary- $5,000,000
Signing Bonus- $1,500,000
Tom - Armstrong is that quiet guy who no one really thinks about but who just gets the job done. A blue-collar grinder who can be depended on to fill a rotational role, yet who had more sacks than anyone not named Micah last year. He probably is at the peak of his career.
Mike - Every year I’ve got my hopes with Armstrong when he starts flashing in training camp and every year when the regular season comes around he would disappear. Last season my feelings on him were no different and suddenly he exploded on the scene. He wasn’t just a demon on special team duties, he actually made plays on defense and looked strong doing it. With it being a contract year for Armstrong, expect his effort to be magnified and maybe we see his sack and pressures totals go up.
Dante Fowler #56
Experience: 9 years
College: Florida Gators
Defensive Stops: 15
Cap Cost- $3,000,000 (1.3% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $1,000,000
Base Salary- $1,500,000
Signing Bonus- $1,000,000
Tom - OK, I have a bit of a difference of opinion with the way Mike has stacked things up. In a recent podcast and article, I identified Fowler as a player who may be pushed off the roster due to numbers. He is still good, but approaching middle age in NFL years. I expect him to play this year - just not necessarily wearing the Star.
Mike - I had Fowler as a secret weapon on the Cowboys defense last year and he was perfectly fine in his role. His time with Dan Quinn at Atlanta obviously made an impression since he soon found himself back with his old coach in Dallas. As a designated pass rusher that can create pressure by coming inside his man is brilliant to watch. But I also agree with Tom in that this could very well be the last year we see Fowler around here unless he has a monumental season that makes it too hard for the front office to move on from him.
Sam Williams #54
Experience: 2 years
College: Ole Miss Rebels
Defensive Snaps: 274
Defensive Stops: 15
Cap Cost- $1,490,226 (% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $2,494,836
Base Salary- $987,921
Signing Bonus- $502,305
Tom - I think Williams is ahead of Fowler on the depth chart, and may well be ahead of Armstrong by the latter part of this season. His only problem by the latter part of 2022 was a lack of reps. When you look at his production compared to his time on the field, you realize the second-year player is just starting to flex his muscles. Further, when you look at this group as a whole, it may be top to bottom the best bunch of edge rushers in the NFL.
Mike - Here’s my breakout player of the year. I got to interview Sam Williams last week and he told me how having a son changed his mindset and perspective on life and how he’s treating football. He looks and sounds ready to take on the role of being the main defensive end going into the future. And if Armstrong and Fowler find new teams next year, it will be up to Williams to be the main man behind Parsons. Given how effective he was last year on a limited snap count, there should be no doubt with more opportunities he will get more production. Exciting times for Williams.
Ben Banogu #95
Tyrus Wheat #91
Viliami Fehoko #93
Durrell Johnson #51
Mike - I think the team will give Tyrus Wheat a year of development and he could be a guy we are talking about next year making a push on the final roster. Fehoko will need to make himself known quickly during training camp, and he has the talent and skills to do it. All he needs to do now is put it all together.
Tom - Look for the team to find a way to keep Fehoko on the roster, which is another reason Fowler is in a bit of a precarious position. The rest are very, very long shots.