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Cowboys’ Job Security: D-Line & LB

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys' Job Security: D-Line & LB

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ Job Security: D-Line & LB

With eight games in and at least eight to go, it seemed a fine time to evaluate the roster. There are many different perspectives you can go with, but if you know me at all then you know I love to put my General Manager hat on. Today we’re going to look at players within the context of job security, the likelihood that they will still be Cowboys next season.

On Thursday we discussed quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends. Yesterday we finished up the offense with running backs and the offensive line. Naturally, we now move on to the defense and will start with the front seven.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Greg Hardy – 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

We start off with quite doozy, huh?  Hardy’s return will likely be the biggest topic this March, provided it isn’t already decided before the end of the year. The Cowboys have already stated interest in signing Hardy to an extension but that was before the release of photos from his domestic violence incident and the flood of public outcry that came with it.

Hardy has certainly proven that he can still be on the most impactful defensive ends in the game. Given that they’ve already weathered the storm of signing Hardy and the most heated fallout from his past, it’s hard to see Dallas not continuing to pursue a long-term relationship. They will certainly look to protect themselves in the terms of the contract, but ultimately I see a deal happening.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 90%

DeMarcus Lawrence – Signed through 2017

It’s been a disappointing second year for Lawrence, but hardly enough for the Cowboys to not bring him back. He certainly needs to step his game up in the second half of the year, though, if he doesn’t want to start falling back in the rotation. Lawrence could end up playing inside on nickel downs more if he doesn’t start making more noise from left end.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Jeremy Mincey – 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

I am totally on the fence with Mincey. He’s a solid, reliable player and provides excellent flexibility as an end or tackle depending on the formation. However, Mincey turns 32 this December. Dallas will likely have a solid rotation with Hardy, Lawrence, and Randy Gregory next season. They also have Jack Crawford who can fill the same versatile role that Mincey does now. Will Mincey be willing to accept a minor contract to come back as a rotational piece? Given his age, the market make dictate that it’s the best option for him.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 33%

Randy Gregory – Signed through 2018

Gregory’s only going to get better this year as he fully recovers from his injury, and then especially next year after his first full offseason. I can’t wait to see him back to form over the next few weeks.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Jack Crawford – 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

I think Dallas would love to bring him back. Crawford is, essentially, a younger version of Mincey and has been an effective backup to Tyrone Crawford at inside tackle as well as at defensive end. He hasn’t been exposed enough in games to where I think other teams will be paying much attention to him, so hopefully Dallas can secure him with a modest contract.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 60%

Ryan Russell – Signed through 2018

The fifth-round pick will certainly return for training camp and the preseason, but there’s no guarantee he’ll make it through final cuts. Dallas has left Russell inactive in all but one games this year. He will get every opportunity to compete but could be ousted by a new rookie or some other prospect who arrives in the offseason.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 60%

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Tyrone Crawford – Signed through 2020

You could have a really good debate with someone on who’s been more disappointing between Crawford and Lawrence. Both were expected to be breakout stars this year, and Dallas paid Crawford based on that expectation with his new deal. Rod Marinelli even admitted in a recent interview that Crawford had to be better. He’s certainly not going anywhere with the new contract, but fans will turn on him pretty quick if he doesn’t start living up to it.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Nick Hayden – 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

I’ve never understood the team’s seeming infatuation with Hayden. He’s a 4-3 tackle who can’t rush the passer and doesn’t do much to stop the run. Where’s the value, other than that he doesn’t miss games?

I think defensive tackle is going to be a key focus for the team next offseason. They will either look to make a splash signing there or spend a high draft pick. Hayden could certainly be back on a modest deal, with a chance to compete or at least be a key reserve. But he could also find himself squeezed out as Dallas looks to upgrade one of its most critical areas of need.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 50%

Terrell McClain – Signed through 2016

Dallas only saves about $1 million if they cut McClain. He should be worth more than that as a low-priced backup with the potential to compete for a starting job, provided he’s fully healthy. The biggest threat to him, like with Hayden, will be the team electing to move to younger options or making a major free agent move.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 60%

David Irving – 2016 Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Irving has been the most exciting young player on the defense this year and could be getting some significant reps as the season goes on. Rod Marinelli has to be salivating at the idea of getting a full offseason to work with this kid.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Chris Whaley – Signed through 2016

Dallas held on to Whaley through 2014 while he recovered from a major knee injury in college, liking his potential as a pass-rushing tackle. He was fully healthy this year but then ruptured his Achilles early in preseason, costing him another season. He’s still under contract, and Dallas has no reason not to bring him back after paying for two years of his medical bills.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 33%

LINEBACKERS

Sean Lee – Signed through 2019

Lee will miss his first full game of 2015 this week in Tampa, which is not too bad given his history. He’s still such a dynamic player when on the field that you can put up with a lot. Hopefully these concussions don’t become a chronic problem.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Rolando McClain – 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

It’s all going to come down to the asking price. McClain will still be just 27 by next season, which is fine age to sign a veteran to a multi-year deal. His reliability both in his health and personal life are significant problems, though. Of all the impending free agents on the team McClain’s probably the one who can do the most to help or hurt his return chances by how he finishes the year.

If I were Dallas, based on the current evidence. I’d offer him a contract like Greg Hardy got in 2015. Not nearly as rich a deal, mind you, but with a similar mix of high incentives and minimal risk for the team. Make the guy keep his body and life in shape and earn every dollar he makes. If he doesn’t like it, you’ve still got Hitchens and a whole offseason to find replacements. I just don’t see any way you can commit to McClain long-term, though, given the last two seasons.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 50%

Anthony Hitchens – Signed through 2017

Hitchens should be starting in some capacity next year. He hasn’t been as explosive this year as in his rookie season, but he’s still a solid player and has that oh so valuable versatility that teams covet.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Kyle Wilber – 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

Wilber has been one the major victims of Dallas’ switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3. He was drafted in 2012, our last year in the old scheme, as a prototypical pass-rushing outside linebacker. Now he’s a guy who’s too small for 4-3 end and not ideally athletic enough for linebacker. I imagine a 3-4 team will look to add Wilber as pass-rushing depth and that he’ll welcome a move back to what he’s built to do.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 10%

Andrew Gachkar – Signed through 2016

He’s been better than I’d have thought based on the scouting report from his Chargers days. Gachkar is a key special teams player and a reliable backup, so there’s little reason to think he won’t play out his contract. The only risk factor for him is the $1.3 million in cap savings Dallas could get from cutting him.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 90%

Damien Wilson – Signed through 2018

His opportunities to play are going up considerably as injuries start to hit the position. If Wilson can show up in relief like Hitchens did last year, as many have suggested he has the potential to do, he could be competing for a starting job next year.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Mark Nzeocha – Signed through 2018

Dallas drafted Nzeocha knowing he would need some physical rehab work from college injuries, which caused his stock to fall. He is an upside guy and I think will be around for at least another year or so.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 75%

Keith Smith – 2016 Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Just added back to the 53-man roster today from the practice squad, Smith has clearly kept the team’s interest. His experience, however limited, only become more valuable as a potential backup and he should be in the mix for next year’s camp.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 50%
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Thanks for reading! I’ll be wrapping it up tomorrow morning with the secondary and special teams players.

Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I’ll be sure to respond!

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