The Dallas Cowboys have done a lot of work to reshape the defensive tackle position in 2021. Two new additions are veterans Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins, both signed in March as free agents. But given the numbers at DT and their contracts, are Urban and Watkins potentially competing for the same roster spot?
Urban just turned 30 last week; a 4th-round pick by the Ravens in 2014. Watkins will turn 28 in December and was also a 4th-rounder in the 2017 draft by the Texans.
The two free agents got similar contracts from the Cowboys. Each signed just a one-year deal worth $1.75 million. But a major difference is that while Watkins’ only has $400k in guaranteed money, Urban’s is actually fully guaranteed.
This is a crucial detail as it means Dallas would face a far stiffer dead money hit if they cut Urban than Watkins. That tells you a lot about how the Cowboys perceive the two veterans going into camp.
However, the guaranteed money doesn’t entirely protect Brent Urban. We saw this in 2015 when Dallas signed LB Jasper Brinkley in free agency and then ate over $2 million in dead money when they didn’t keep him past final cuts.
Now there’s nothing that says both Urban and Watkins can’t make the team in 2021. After all, the Cowboys just cut Antwaun Woods last week and didn’t re-sign Gerald McCoy despite reports that they hoped to earlier in the offseason. New as they are, Urban and Watkins are now the elder statesman of the DT group.
The reason it feels like they’re up for the same roster spot is all the young talent now at the position. Between Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore as carryovers and rookies Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna just getting drafted, Dallas has a stable of developmental prospects who are all under contract for at least 2022 and beyond.
It would be very odd for the Cowboys to keep six defensive tackles. In fact, even keeping five could be a stretch depending on other needs at other positions. With 3rd-round rookie Chauncey Golston being touted as having potential to play some 3-tech DT, that could push Dallas to only keep four true defensive tackles on the official roster.
One trap we fall into at times is overrating the young talent and their job security. While it’s logical to assume that Hill, Gallimore, and Odighizuwa will all make the team as recent 2nd and 3rd-round picks, Bohanna was only a 6th-rounder and there are plenty of times those guys don’t even make the team as rookies.
Bohanna does feel a little different; a true run-stuffing nose tackle that the Cowboys have sorely lacked for a while. Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn even commented recently that Quinton already had a clearly defined role in Dallas’ defense.
That specific need is why, if it does come down to just one of them, I would give the nod to Brent Urban over Carlos Watkins to make the team. Urban is a highly-graded run stopper and that where the Cowboys have struggled heavily in recent years.
Watkins is more of an athletic DT, which the team already has a few of in its young prospects. He’s going to have a harder time standing out and keeping Dallas from looking at the $1.35 million in cap space they can save by cutting him.
Again, nothing says that both of these veterans can’t make the Cowboys roster. But given their contracts and the younger options around them, it feels like Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins are on a collision course to final cuts in 2021.