Our 2022 preview series moves forward with the defensive ends. The Dallas Cowboys are hoping that the development of recent draft picks and an intriguing free agency addition will make this position more threatening to opposing offenses in the upcoming season.
Randy Gregory's departure was one of the odder and most disappointing developments of the Cowboys' offseason. Having lost their best pure pass rusher at DE, Dallas has amassed several different options to hopefully replace Gregory's contributions.
While impactful, the loss of Gregory is perhaps an exaggerated storyline overall. Dallas still has its best pass rusher, LB Micah Parsons, and a now-underrated player in DeMarcus Lawrence. They also made sure to re-sign Dorance Armstrong, a budding playmaker whose per-snap production in 2021 wasn't a far cry from Randy's.
A key to defensive success is establishing threats at various spots on the field. You want your opponent worrying, affecting their play calls and making players hesitate in the moment.
The Cowboys have two of the NFL's biggest threats going into 2022; Parsons and ball-hawking CB Trevon Diggs. If they can get a more consistent impact from the DE position it will go a long way to taking the defense to another level this season.
- DeMarcus Lawrence (9th season, 9th w/ DAL)
- Dorance Armstrong (5th season, 5th w/ DAL)
- Chauncey Golston (2nd season, 2nd w/ DAL)
- Tarell Basham (6th season, 2nd w/ DAL)
- Dante Fowler Jr. (8th season, 1st w/ DAL)
- Sam Williams (1st season, 2nd-round pick)
- Markaviest Bryant (1st season, UDFA)
- Mike Tafua (1st season, UDFA)
Lawrence is back for a ninth season after taking a true pay cut to remain a Cowboy. While he's not putting up double-digit sacks anymore, Tank remains one of the best run defenders in the NFL and still produces well in QB pressures and other pass-rushing measures. He's a worthy starter and is now underappreciated by many fans for his contributions.
Dallas gave Armstrong a new two-year, $12 million contract back in March. He put in five sacks last year in a backup role and gave the Cowboys a much cheaper option than Gregory with semi-comparable production. The hope is that more snaps will make Dorance an even bigger impact player.
The Cowboys are also taking a flier on veteran Dante Fowler Jr. for some pass-rushing help. The third-overall pick in 2015, Fowler has struggled with injuries and only produced double-digit sacks once in his seven seasons. But with Dante turning just 28 in August, there's reasonable hope that he can be a contributor in the right system and if he stays healthy.
The effort to replace Gregory included spending this year's 2nd-round pick on Ole Miss' product Sam Williams. While labeled a reach when Dallas took him 56th-overall last April, Williams hopes to prove the naysayers wrong just like Micah Parsons did a year ago.
Chauncey Golston and Tarell Basham were heavy rotation players last year looking to at least maintain their roles in 2022 if not doing more. Golston had some flashes as a rookie and could eventually replace Lawrence as a run defender. Basham played on over half the total defensive snaps in 2021 but could be in trouble with the additions of Fowler and Williams.
Also in this year's camp are undrafted free agents Markaviest “Big Kat” Bryant and Mike Tafua. With six clear candidates already for roster spots, and perhaps even one of Basham or Fowler having to fight for a job, either of these UDFAs making the team is a longshot at best.
Dante Fowler Jr. vs. Everyone
There's plenty to be interested in from the DE position in this year's training camp. But when you've got a former third-overall pick as a new arrival with the team, it's hard not to be especially intriguied by what Dante Fowler Jr. might bring to the mix.
Depending on how effective he is Fowler could land anywhere along the depth chart. He could wind up starting regularly across from Lawrence, in a healthy rotation with Armstrong and Williams, or in a dogfight with Basham for a roster spot.
Dallas hedged its bet by only giving Fowler $1.5 million in 2022. Still, they made $1 million of that guaranteed; an expression of at least modest confidence in Dante's ability to at least make the roster and contribute.
Except for Williams the rest of the competition at DE are all holdovers from previous seasons. But Fowler is partially here because of his relationship with Dan Quinn from Atlanta, helping to even the playing field in terms of loyalty from the coaches.
Of course, with seven years of evidence to the contrary, Fowler may not accomplish much in this opportunity with Dallas. But he brings a pedigree and perceived potential that none of his fellow defensive ends have ever claimed, making him one of the more fascinating figures in this year's camp.