The Cowboys stuck with a familiar face in Mike Zimmer to be their new defensive coordinator.
Zimmer, 67, returns to Dallas – where he was the defensive coordinator from 2000 to 2006 and a defensive assistant for seven years prior – to assist Mike McCarthy as he heads into the fifth and final year of his contract with the team.
While it did take a few days for Zimmer to come to terms with the team, the two sides were able to get the deal done following a Super Bowl weekend that saw Jerry Jones and the front office make the trip to Las Vegas.
After leaving Dallas in 2006, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2008 to 2013 before being the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2014 to 2021. His eight seasons as a head coach saw him lead the Vikings to the playoffs three times including an appearance in the NFC Championship Game in 2017.
At each stop Zimmer has made as either a defensive coordinator or head coach, he has brought multiple top-five total defense seasons with the Cowboys being first and fourth in total defense in 2001 and 2003, respectively, the Bengals being third and fourth in 2013 and 2009, respectively, and the Vikings being first, third and fourth in 2017, 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Mike Zimmer to me on returning to Dallas as DC:— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) February 12, 2024
“I’m excited and honored to be back with a great organization. I’m thrilled to work with Mike McCarthy, for whom I have had a ton of respect in our NFC North days, and to do anything I can do to help the Joneses and the Cowboys.” pic.twitter.com/TShnJZtPAh
Uncertainty over Mike Zimmer? Don’t be fooled, Cowboys never wavered on choice of DC - David Moore, DMN
Everybody and their uncle seems to have a theory about how the Zimmer hire went down, Moore sets the record straight.
Sure, the Cowboys had entered into negotiations with Mike Zimmer to become the team’s next defensive coordinator. But that was on Thursday. Was there a hitch? Had Rex Ryan inserted himself back into the process?
Zimmer and the Cowboys laid all of that to rest Monday by finalizing the contract. Don’t be fooled by Ryan’s public declarations. The Cowboys never waffled on Zimmer, two people with knowledge of the club’s thinking told The Dallas Morning News.
This was simply about hammering out the details of the contract to a point where both sides could accept.
But once the decision was made to pursue Zimmer, there was no looking back.
Now, does that mean owner Jerry Jones is above using Ryan’s interest as leverage to forge a more favorable deal with Zimmer when those two sides couldn’t reach an immediate agreement?
What do you think?
What to expect from Mike Zimmer’s defense and the changes that will likely be made - Dan Rogers, Blogging the Boys
The Cowboys have a lot of talent for Zimmer to work with, but will also need to add new scheme fits that are ready to play right away this offseason.
So, realistically, what should we expect? Two things...
The defense could get off to a slow start until they start figuring things out. Expect some letdowns early.
The defense will be good. It might not be right away, and it might not be as dominant as they were at times over Quinn’s tenure, but they’ll at the very least be solid and likely more consistent.
But getting there will bring some changes, and those changes will be big. And we’re talking in the literal sense, not figuratively. The Cowboys’ defense will need to get bigger across the board. The most obvious one is enough of this lean, mean, chasing machine linebacker stuff that Quinn ran. Sorry Markquese Bell, but another position switch is likely in the cards for you. Look for the Cowboys to add bigger linebackers to the roster this season to aid with the double-A gap blitz that we’ll often see with Zimmer’s defense. Our own David Howman did a great job discussing the simulated pressures this style creates, and here’s a nice video courtesy of PFF.
While Bell’s displacement at linebacker might be one change coming, he might slide into the team’s new strong safety spot. That’s because Jayron Kearse is likely leaving via free agency and Donovan Wilson lacks coverage skills. Remember, Bell is a converted safety and might be more effective closing in on pass catchers than he was at sifting through blockers and closing in on ball carriers. Juanyeh Thomas or even Israel “where have you gone” Mukuamu should also be in the mix for the new strong safety spot as well. Look for the Cowboys to improve their coverage capability at the safety position that extends beyond just Malik Hooker.
Bigger linebackers will help fend off offensive linemen barreling through the second level, but it would also be nice if they could get a little beef in the interior defensive line as well. The Cowboys used a first-round pick on Mazi Smith a year ago and his development will be huge in determining how much success the defense can have in the middle. But don’t be surprised if the Cowboys go even bigger with another nose tackle either through free agency or the draft as they look for someone who’s got a little extra girth.
While still trying to win in the last year of Mike McCarthy’s contract, the Cowboys should look to get younger and avoid these veteran free agents.
WR Mike Evans
There’s a very good chance that Dallas will be in the wide receiver market when free agency officially opens on March 13. The Cowboys have some decent depth now, but receivers Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks are both potential cap casualties.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans is coming off of his 10th consecutive 1,000-yard season and figures to be one of the bigger names on the market, if Tampa lets him reach it.
However, Evans is also set to turn 31 in August and is going to command a hefty salary. He has a projected market value of $23.8 million annually, which Dallas could likely only afford with a back-loaded deal.
With contract extensions looming for both CeeDee Lamb and Dak Prescott, can’t afford to commit a ton of future salary to Evans, who might only be a temporary fix at the receiver position anyway.
While Evans is still playing at a tremendous level, the dreaded cliff can strike older receivers unexpectedly.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
“According to a source, the Cowboys may have been amenable to an Elliott return if he could be had for less than $3 million dollars,” Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in October.
However, Elliott signed with the New England Patriots and played the entire 2023 season with them. He’ll be a free agent in March, which will re-open the proverbial door, but Dallas should steer clear.
While Elliott had a few bright moments with the Patriots, it’s clear that his best days are behind him. The 28-year-old averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in New England, and he hasn’t averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry since 2021.
Even on a budget deal, Elliott simply isn’t efficient enough as a runner to give Dallas the offensive balance that it needs. The Cowboys may still target a back in free agency, but Elliott should be avoided.
The Cowboys are due for a fresh start at running back.
Depending on the market for Tony Pollard, the Cowboys should let him walk and look to go cheaper at the position.
Ezekiel Elliott has a cap charge of $6.04M for the 2024 season for the Cowboys, so Dallas has no choice but to move off Pollard and look for something easier to manage.
Trey Benson out of Florida State is who would be my first choice.
He is a 6-foot-1, 225 back but moves like he is 190 pounds. From some of the tapes I have watched on him, he has great quickness for a power back.
His receiving ability is above average, but they don’t need him to be CMC, Dallas can use what they have still under contract or find a cheaper guy like Marlon Mack or someone similar.
Three-round 2024 NFL mock draft: Giants snag Michigan WR Roman Wilson in Round 3 - Chad Reuter, NFL.com
A mock draft that gives McCarthy plenty of reinforcements for his second year calling the Cowboys offense.
Pick 24: Troy Fautanu, Washington · OT · Senior
Forget about Fautanu’s size. He can play tackle in the NFL. His lateral movement, hip flexion and anchor should allow him to step in for Tyron Smith if the veteran doesn’t re-sign in 2024.
Pick 56: Jaylen Wright , Tennessee · RB · Junior
Pick 87 Sedrick Van Pran-Granger, Georgia · C · Junior (RS)
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