You get what you pay for.
This is the story of the Dallas Cowboys defensive line.
For too long the Cowboys have tried to patch their defensive line by either taking chances in the draft or waiting in free agency to get bargains.
But, bargains are what they are because there is something wrong with the player. You are never going to get a bargain for something that is great. A bargain comes when there is a red flag or some sort of issue. Greg Hardy was a bargain because of the off-the-field concerns. Age can sometimes come with a bargain. Jason Pierre-Paul could be a bargain because of his hand.
If the Cowboys seriously want to add to their defensive line then they must pay as if they want to. Sure, they can continue bargain hunting hoping they strike gold like Macklemore in a Thrift Shop, but if they want to win under Tony Romo they better act like it.
In 2015, 9 of the top-10 teams in the NFL in total sacks made the Playoffs. Each of those teams had no less than 42 total sacks. The Arizona Cardinals had the least sacks of any Playoff teams with 36, five sacks more than the Cowboys had last year. Keep in mind unless they spend it is very hard to picture the 2016 Cowboys defensive line being anywhere near last year.
When projecting, I like to look at conservative numbers. If I’m building a roster I think it is wrong to be too hopeful and assume you will get the best of every player. You have to be ready for the things that go wrong during a season.
With that being said I think it is only fair to project Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford for 2016. The rest of the players just aren’t starter level players and haven’t proven anything on the NFL level.
I’ll project 8 sacks for Demarcus Lawrence and 5 for Tyrone Crawford. I’ll assign another 12 sacks to be shared between the rest of these defensive linemen as well as linebackers and defensive backs.
That brings you to 25 sacks, something that is a lot less than desirable. Keep in mind even if Dallas brings in some mid-level defensive linemen, that would skew this number slightly. While a guy like Adrian Clayborn might get more sacks than a Ryan Russell, he would also take away time from the rotation I assigned 12 sacks to, skewing the number just slightly.
The way you get that projection of 25 much higher is by adding a dominant player. The Cowboys are desperate for a guy who can give them double-digit sacks. Jason Hatcher was the last Cowboys defensive lineman to register double-digit sacks with 11 in 2013.
DeMarcus Ware was the last Cowboys defensive lineman to make a serious impact in the sacks department with 19.5 in 2011.
Another really important element that is being overlooked is the impact that Greg Hardy had for the rest of the defensive line.
Greg Hardy was the guy teams had to game plan against. Greg Hardy was the guy who had to fight the dirty work. Greg Hardy fought the double teams and took on all of the attention. Greg Hardy pushed sacks to Demarcus Lawrence.
If Demarcus Lawrence becomes the guy in 2016, is he really ready for that? Lawrence’s sacks came in bunches and a lot of Cowboys fans weren’t happy with him for a good portion of the beginning of the season.
If Demarcus Lawrence is the guy who is getting game planned against and the guy who is getting doubled, first off I don’t know if he can handle that and I do know that the rest of the defensive line is not good enough to benefit from that.
The fact of the matter is you can’t rely on Rod Marinelli to work his magic every year. You also can’t depend on rookies to come in and make an impact. Spend some money and put together a defensive line that will sack the quarterback. Defensive line pressure also leads to poor decisions, which lead to turnovers. As we all know, the Cowboys defense barely forced any turnovers in 2015.
On one hand this team swears they are a win-now team under Tony Romo. If that is what they are then they have to act like it. You can’t say that on one hand and then on the other spend cheaply on mid-level players as well as use the draft for positions of desperate need. If you want to win now then you spend on players you KNOW will give you production in 2016 and you use the mid-rounds to develop players to become productive after the Romo window and after the contract with said productive defensive lineman runs out.
Is there a JJ Watt on the market? Absolutely not. However, there are impact players that demand game planning and help the rest of the defensive line look like a much better unit.
Mario Williams, Charles Johnson, Olivier Vernon and Malik Jackson would make a huge impact in 2016.
If the Cowboys do want to go the cheap route, they can still get production if they sign several names. If they go get several out of the group of Adrian Clayborn, William Hayes, Tamba Hali, Jason Pierre-Paul, Jeremy Mincey, Jack Crawford, Robert Ayers, Jaye Howard, Derrick Shelby etc. they can still make it work.
I prefer going for the high end defensive lineman under a 1-3 year deal to really go for it, while using mid-rounders or even higher picks to build the defensive line long-term. However, if the Cowboys do go to the second or third tier, they better sign multiple players or every single one of us has more than enough reason to be extremely disappointed with the team.
This defensive line as currently assembled is an embarrassment and that won’t change much unless they do serious work in free agency and the draft.