The hiring of Mike Nolan to be the Dallas Cowboys new defensive coordinator has brought a new and fresh dynamic to the offseason that we haven’t experienced in many, many years. Not since the hiring of Monte Kiffen back in 2013, have the Cowboys had a change in defensive philosophy as stark as we might see this offseason.
If you spend a lot of time looking back at Mike Nolan’s coaching history, you see pretty quickly that most of his experience and success has been coaching defenses that utilized a 3-man front in their base defense. The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers from 2000-2010 were two of the better 3-4 defenses in the NFL that decade and Mike Nolan was a part of that.
Though he’s been upfront with the idea that the Cowboys will stay in the 4-man fronts that we’ve grown accustomed to, there will be a bit of a difference in how they’re deployed compared to that of the Kiffen and Rod Marinelli era. Nolan wants to show multiple fronts to offenses in order to make it a bit more difficult to diagnose what the defense wants to do. Simply by adding variety to the front seven — or front six in nickel — alignments, offenses will have to think a bit more than they might have had to. It’s a similar philosophy that Bill Belichick utilizes in New England. The goal is to have a variety of position types that can be deployed in both four and three-man defensive fronts to keep the offense off-balance.
In addition to Nolan’s desire to create confusion along the defensive front, he also wants to be more aggressive. Meaning the Dallas Cowboys will bring extra rushers far more than they did under Kiffen, Marinelli, and Richard whose goal was to win with four defensive linemen with the occasional blitz.
With their desire to be a multiple defense, they’ll be looking for players who offer some versatility at the edge rusher spot. They’ll need guys who can rush the passer and drop into coverage. If the Dallas Cowboys aren’t able to retain Robert Quinn to play the right defensive end spot, they’ll need to find someone that can rush the passer from the right side of the defense.
With that let’s take a look at 3 edge rushers that could be a fit for the Cowboys in free agency.
1. Markus Golden, New York Giants
Maruks Golden is a name that should be on the Cowboys radar after watching him play for the New York Giants over the last season. With the Giants, Golden posted his first 10 sack season since he recorded 12.5 sacks with the Arizona Cardinals back in 2016. Though it’s possible he re-signs with the New York Giants after a strong 2019, he could be a versatile player the Dallas Cowboys could use to rush off the right edge.
Though he’s not getting as much noise as some of the other free agent edge rushers, his 2019 season compares quite favorably to someone like Yannick Ngakoue who is looking to command a pretty hefty contract from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Request from @nojokemoke Markus Golden vs Yannick Ngakoue 2019 #’s Markus Golden: 16 QB hurries 14 QB knockdowns 44 QB pressures 27 QB hits 72 total tackles 10 sacks 13 TFL Yannick Ngakoue: 10 QB hurries 9 QB knockdowns 27 QB pressures 15 QB hits 41 total tackles 8 sacks 13 TFL
In addition to his 10 sacks in 2019, Golden recorded 72 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. He was 21st in PFF’s Pass Rush Productivity and 15th in Run Stop Percentage. He made a run stop on 8% of his run plays and was fourth in the NFL among edge rushers in “stops,” which is a play that results in a loss for the offense. Only Joey Bosa, Sam Hubbard, and Bud Dupree had more stops than Markus Golden in 2019.
Like DeMarcus Lawrence, he’s an excellent all-around player that doesn’t force you to sacrifice run defense when he’s on the field. He would be an excellent player to bring to this defense and because of the number of pass rushers expected to be available in free agency, he could be found at a reasonable rate.
Though the Giants are interested in bringing Golden back in 2020, they’re shooting for the stars as one of the teams that will be in heavy pursuit of Jadeveon Clowney.
2. Dante Fowler Jr., Los Angeles Rams
Like Vic Beasley, Dante Fowler Jr. had to rediscover himself last year with the Los Angeles Rams. Originally drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fowler was solid to start his career with four sacks in his rookie campaign and eight sacks in his second year, but struggled to get on the field for the Jaguars. In his first two years, though he played in all 16 games, Fowler Jr. started just one game in Jacksonville.
A midseason trade to the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 after starting the season with just two sacks, got him on the field more as he started six of his eight games with L.A. Though he only had four sacks between the two teams in 2018, he bounced back for his first double-digit sack season in 2019 posting 11.5 sacks this season.
|3 yr||3 yr||JAX||39||1||0||0||5||3||0||4||1||14.0||53||41||13||14||22|
|2 yr||2 yr||LAR||24||20||0||0||7||3||0||2||1||13.5||58||40||24||20||21|
Per Pro Football Focus, Fowler finished 14th in their Pass Rush Productivity rating among edge rushers with at least 292 pass-rush snaps. Pass Rush Productivity “measures pressure created on a per snap basis with a weighting toward sacks.” For reference, Za’Darius Smith and TJ Watt led the NFL in PFF’s Pass Rush Productivity.
Because of the inconsistencies in production, it’s possible Fowler could be had a discount in a decently sized edge rusher market.
3. Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons
Heading to free agency for the first time with a boatload of experience and production, Vic Beasley might be one of the top edge rushers to hit the market this offseason. Heading into his ag 28 season, Beasley’s recorded 37.5 sacks over the first five years of his career including a 15.5 sack season and an eight sack season in 2019.
He was an incredibly productive player, though maybe a bit up and down from the sack production standpoint, however, as we saw with DeMarcus Lawrence in 2019, sack totals don’t always tell the whole story.
Beasley only rushed the passer on 83.6% of passing downs for the Atlanta Falcons. While that may seem like a lot, among edge players with at least 292 pass-rush snaps, that ranks 54th. And he still came away with eight sacks last season.
15.5 sacks in a season doesn’t come by accident. Though his two seasons that followed totaled 10 sacks in 2017 and 2018, he has the ability to produce at a very high level. He’s a player that you could play at right defensive end in a four-man front or at outside linebacker in a three-man front.
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Of course, this whole exercise could be pointless with the Dallas Cowboys’ interest in bringing back 2019 standout Robert Quinn, but until that deal is signed, it’s important to look at the options the Dallas Cowboys should explore in free agency. If they’re truly looking at becoming a multiple front defense like Mike Nolan desires, then these three guys bring an element the Cowboys don’t currently have; a stand-up edge rusher that can drop into coverage and affect the quarterback on the rush.
It takes money to make money and at some point, the Cowboys are going to have to get aggressive in free agency to help get their team over the top.