The Dallas Cowboys were a nightmare on the defensive side of the ball in 2020. They finished 31st against the run and 28th in points allowed. Injuries played a role in their putrid performance, as well as former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s hybrid scheme that became a struggle to implement.
With free agency set to start in March, plenty of players will be looking for new homes, and other players begin trying to influence them to join their particular franchises. The Cowboy’s top pass rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, has already started recruiting defensive help to Dallas. On Friday, he set his sights on two proven veterans, defensive end J.J. Watt and cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Watt was given his release on Friday morning. Shortly after he thanked the Houston Texans and its fans for a decade of support via his Twitter account, Lawrence didn’t waste any time trying to get the two-time NFL sack champion to stay within the state of Texas.
It’s no secret why Lawrence would want a player like Watt to line up beside him in the trenches. During his 10-year career in Houston, the argument can be made that Watt was as dominant as any defensive player in the NFL. His 101 sacks rank second to Von Miller (106) since entering the league in 2011. He made five Pro Bowls and was a five-time First-Team All-Pro. He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous selection to the 2010s All-Decade Team, and a Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient (2017).
Watt has been a regular, unfortunately, on the injury report since 2016. Back, hand, knee, and chest injuries have forced him to miss 32 games over that span after not missing a game in his first five seasons. That’s a cause for concern, especially considering he’s on the backside of his prime. However, he wouldn’t be asked to be the dominant force he was earlier in his career, only a situational pass rusher.
Lawrence only waited minutes later to put a bug in Peterson’s ear as well. The Cowboys have two of their top cornerbacks, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, set to be unrestricted free agents, making Peterson a prime candidate to fill one of the holes if one or both should find employment elsewhere.
Peterson was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, just six spots ahead of Watt. He’s made eight Pro Bowls and been selected a First-Team All-Pro three times. Like Watt, he’s a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team. Peterson’s only time on the sidelines during his 10-year career came in 2019 when he was suspended for the first six games for violating the league’s old performance-enhancing drug policy.
It was reported recently that Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals were parting ways, however, Peterson called it a “dirty rumor”. Barring a franchise tag or extension, Peterson will be looking for a new home, and Dallas could be a good fit.
The Cowboy’s new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s scheme will run a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks, ideal for long and physical corners like Peterson. He may not be playing at an elite level like years past, and this season was a struggle for him, but he’s still better than most corners you’ll find and could be a great mentor for Trevon Diggs who showed tremendous promise as a rookie.
Watt and Peterson will have plenty of suitors for their services in 2021. Nonetheless, Lawrence has done his due diligence to get them to America’s Team and help turn around a Cowboys defense that was historically bad in 2020.