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2021 Offseason: Did Cowboys Get Better or Worse at Linebacker?

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

  • Departures
    • Sean Lee
    • Joe Thomas
    • Justin March
  • Arrivals
    • Keanu Neal (FA)
    • Micah Parsons (R)
    • Jabril Cox (R)
    • UDFAs
      • 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.

Final Verdict: BETTER

What do you think?


Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!


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  1. Micah Parsons wasn’t the cowboys first option in the 1st round!! They wanted the corners in the 1st round, and when the panthers and broncos took them with the picks before us, they’re next option was Parsons!! So corner was there actual priority!! I believe if we would’ve gotten one of the corners in the 1st round, we would have ended up just drafting for depth at LB!! If we would’ve drafted a corner in the 1st round, I believe Jabril Cox would’ve been the only LB we drafted!! So LB wasn’t clearly a priority for us this off season!! With all of our off season additions, our priority was to fix the defense, and the positions we focused more on to fix the defense was DT and corner!! We pretty much didn’t have any other options when we drafted Parsons!! So to be clear, our top priority was to fix the defense…. And by us keeping Jaylon Smith and LVE shows that LB wasn’t at the top of our priority list!! And by us signing and drafting so many DT and corners, that shows that those 2 positions were our top priority!! Not LB!!

  2. The fact that we didn’t try to draft or trade down and draft a CB or DT in the 1st round tells you how much we felt LB was a need. But most importantly the cowboys didn’t wanna miss out on the best defensive player in the draft in Parsons. LVE and Smith are likely both gone next year, so yea LB was a very underrated need. I thought the cowboys hit a home run in the 1st round. We got the best defensive player and got an extra pick. We need playmakers on defense and no other defensive player came close to fitting the bill for that then Parsons.

    U could take exception with the picks starting in round twos but round 1-2 were good.

  3. Yes LB is really the most underrated need we had, J Smith and LVE i believe will be gone, LVE can’t stay healthy and J Smith sucks for the kind of contract he got which we can easily get out of after this year.

    Cox and Parsons will then replace them as our 2 main LBs

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