With a first-round pick and arguably their biggest free agent addition both used at linebacker, it was clearly a priority position for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. But did these investments actually improve things given some of the talent that went out the door in 2021? Our “Better or Worse” series continues with the linebackers.
Between adding Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal and converting him to LB and then drafting Micah Parsons with the 12th-overall pick, Dallas told the world that they wanted to get better at LB. These players aren’t just here to support Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch; there will be real competition for roles and playing time among them.
There was an exodus of previous support staff with Sean Lee’s retirement and the free agent departures of Joe Thomas and Justin March. While Lee is a treasured member of the Cowboys’ past, his effectiveness had waned significantly in recent years.
Thomas was a textbook backup; versatile and capable if called upon. March was mostly seen on social teams but was trusted to be a depth player despite the chronic injury issues at linebacker.
2021 Offseason Movement at LB
- Sean Lee
- Joe Thomas
- Justin March
- Keanu Neal (FA)
- Micah Parsons (R)
- Jabril Cox (R)
- Anthony Hines III
No matter who gets the bulk of the playing time between Neal, Parsons, Smith, and Vander Esch, we can look forward to improved depth with two of these players in reserve roles. At worst, it should be a more dynamic group than we’ve had in a while.
A very interesting player in this mix is 4th-round rookie Jabril Cox. Considered one of the biggest steals of the 2021 draft, he could be a factor immediately if he takes to Dan Quinn’s scheme quickly.
Dallas could also get more from developmental prospects Francis Bernard and Luke Gifford. Entering just their second and third seasons respectively, both have been “pet cats” for many fans and they should have an intriguing competition this year for a roster spot.
We hope that all of these new faces, plus improvement for existing ones, will make this a much stronger LB group in 2021. If nothing else, getting the same level of play we had in 2018 from Jaylon and Leighton would be a boon.
Getting better isn’t guaranteed. But with these moves, Dallas has at least given themselves better opportunities to improve.