The quickest way to success in the NFL is being dominant in the trenches. On the defensive side of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys had some work to do after losing Maliek Collins and 2019 sack leader Robert Quinn to free agency, and they didn't wait long to start putting pieces together.
The biggest area of concern was the interior, an area the Cowboys routinely ignored during the Jason Garrett era. The first domino to fall came in March when the Cowboys signed veteran Gerald McCoy to a three-year deal worth 18.3 million. McCoy, a former six-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time All-Pro, gives the Cowboys an immediate upgrade from the aforementioned Collins at the 3-technique. Not only is he a constant disruptor in the run game, but McCoy also hasn't had less than five sacks for eight consecutive seasons. For a team that had trouble stopping the run and getting sacks last season, McCoy's presence will be vital in getting this defense back to the form it played in during the 2018 season.
About a week after McCoy came on board, his ex Carolina Panther teammate Dontari Poe inked a two-year deal with the Cowboys. Although Antwaun Woods is still on the roster and has been solid, Poe will takeover 1-technique responsibilities. His ability to use his nearly 350-pound frame to disrupt from inside will not only benefit the pass rush and stopping the run, but it will keep offensive linemen from getting to the second level and putting a hat on the Cowboys talented linebacker core.
As of last week, Aldon Smith has been conditionally reinstated by the NFL. The former All-Pro has been down a long road to get back to the league, and with the help of Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, he's, done just that. Back in April, Smith talked about his journey with Glazer and how appreciative he was to get another shot at resuming his career.
“It's been a whole lot of soul searching. It's been a journey filled with ups and downs,” Smith said. “And during the process, during the journey, there's been some self-inflicting wounds. But in the process, I came out with a better understanding of who I am and what I want for my life. It gave me a greater appreciation for the game I'm blessed to play.”
With his past demons now seemingly behind him, Smith will be a very important piece getting after the quarterback opposite DeMarcus Lawrence.
Speaking of Lawrence, he sets to benefit the most from these keys additions upfront. As far as sacks go, Lawrence had a down year with five sacks last year, considering he had double-digits in that category the previous two seasons. However, he finished with the 15th best overall grade for edge rushers and his 83.3 run grade was the 12th best in 2019, proving you have to look beyond sacks to judge defensive ends. With McCoy and Poe causing chaos on the interior, and Smith playing well off the right edge, Lawrence will see his sack numbers go back up almost certainly.
In the NFL Draft, the Cowboys took Defensive Tackle Neville Gallimore in the third round. With his flexibility to play both the 1-tech and 3-tech, he's an ideal fit to rotate with McCoy and Poe. In a defense under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan that will focus on taking the ball away, Gallimore fits in perfectly with his four forced fumbles in his final two collegiate seasons.
Also, the Cowboys stole Utah's Bradlee Anae in the fifth round. He's coming off a decorated college career as a two-time All-Pac 12 performer and ranking fourth on the conferences all-time sack list with 30. Anae's relentless motor and ability to set the edge will be another weapon to add opposite Lawrence off the right edge. With him being the new middle on the block he'll have to work for his snaps, but the ability to learn and stay fresh will help him acclimate to the pro game.
The last remaining piece to be added is Randy Gregory, who's looking to get back into the NFL after his indefinite suspension in February of 2019 for violating the league's substance policy and the terms of his conditional reinstatement. His agent Peter Schaffer told Pro Football Talk last week that Gregory is patiently going through the reinstatement process.
“We are working through the process,” Schaffer said. “We are very happy for Aldon and wish him all the luck in the world and successful resumption of his career. It's refreshing to see the NFL following through on their stated goal to focus more of rehabbing players than punishing players.”
The probability of Gregory getting reinstated is very favorable since the league's new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) no longer suspends players for positive marijuana tests. The last time we saw Gregory in 2018, he was second on the team with six sacks. Now, after working on himself the Cowboys are hopeful he can start to reach the potential he had coming into the league.
If the Cowboys want to get back to the playoffs their defensive line core has to be productive. They have the horses, but we'll have to stay tuned to see where they lead this defense