The need for an improved pass rush is the main topic of the Dallas Cowboys offseason. In all of the discussion, though, last year's sack leader has somehow become an afterthought. Could the Cowboys best pass rusher still be Benson Mayowa, and what impact could he have on the 2017 defense?
Whether it's the drafting of Taco Charlton, the delayed debut of Charles Tapper, the hopes placed on David Irving, or DeMarcus Lawrence's contract year, it seems that every other defensive end is being looked at to fix the Cowboys' biggest weakness. However, there is reason to think that Benson Mayowa can also be a major factor.
Of his six total sacks in 2016, Mayowa had 3.5 of them in just four games from Weeks 13-16. That is almost one sack per game, and I don't have to tell you what 14-15 sacks would mean for the Cowboys defense. It also means Mayowa would have an almost guaranteed trip to the Pro Bowl.
It's no surprise that Benson Mayowa needed some time to find his footing in Dallas. He'd spent two seasons in Oakland is a backup 3-4 outside linebacker, getting little playing time. Mayowa not only had to learn a new style of play but also an increased level of responsibility. Based on that last quarter of 2016, though, it seems that he made the adjustment.
Dallas certainly showed faith in Mayowa when they signed him to a three-year, $8.25 million contract as a free agent last year. Part of this was to make sure that the Raiders, who'd tagged Benson as a restricted free agent, didn't match the deal. But the willingness to pay Mayowa close to $3 million pear year, given his lack of playing time, was a huge statement about his perceived potential.
Even if Mayowa keeps developing, the fight for playing time will still be difficult. The teammates we mentioned earlier will all be contending for snaps. Rod Marinelli's rotation-heavy scheme will allow for every to get time, but it could limit their ability to really have a standout season.
Of course, this isn't the Cowboys concern. If a rotation keeps our guys fresh and keeps opposing quarterbacks pressured, that is certainly the best thing for the team.
That said, a breakout star at defensive end will be hard to take off the field. The rotation plan makes sense when you don't have a catalytic player in the mix, which has been the case for the Dallas defensive line for a while. If someone starts consistently making plays and making teammates better, we will likely see that player start getting more star treatment.
At this point, there is no reason to think that player can't be Benson Mayowa. He has as much a claim to the spot as anyone after last season, and we just may be underrating his upside.