Our Offseason Preview series now turns to the Cowboys defense. While Dallas has its primary piece in place with DeMarcus Lawrence, the defensive end position is about to see three of its top performers from last season hit free agency. How will the team handle that dilemma in 2020?
Here’s is what we’re looking at right now:
2020 Defensive End Contract Statuses
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Dorance Armstrong
- Joe Jackson
- Jalen Jelks
- Randy Gregory (SUSP)
- Free Agents
- Robert Quinn (UFA)
- Michael Bennett (UFA)
- Kerry Hyder (UFA)
UFA = Unrestricted | SUSP = Suspended
The one-year rental on Robert Quinn in 2019 was a massive success. He produced 11.5 sacks in just 14 games and, despite turning 30 this May, should draw plenty of interest in the free agent market.
Unfortunately, that interest could easily put him out of Dallas’ price range. Given the league-topping money that the Cowboys gave to Lawrence last year, they will have a hard time being competitive if Quinn finds a lucrative offer elsewhere.
Another major factor in Quinn’s potential return is what Dallas plans to do with their defensive scheme. New coordinator Mike Nolan is known for preferring the 3-4 scheme and Quinn was clearly not as effective as an OLB in that defense with the Rams or Dolphins. Now an even older player, that would not seem the right fit going forward.
The same goes for Michael Bennett or Kerry Hyder. Both provided solid veteran depth in 2019 but both are also more suited for 4-3 defenses.
So far the new coaching staff has said they will design a scheme around talent, rather than fit talent into a dogmatic scheme. But with Quinn, Bennett, and Hyder all free agents, Nolan may want to bring in more versatile players.
The cupboard isn’t totally bare, thankfully. Dallas has used mid-round picks in recent years to acquire a few intriguing young prospects.
Dorance Armstrong is entering his third season while Joe Jackson just finished his rookie year. They have both flashed potential and could be leaned on for greater depth roles in 2020.
Another factor in this discussion is veteran Tyrone Crawford. While he could still easily be a salary cap casualty, Crawford has reportedly said he’d take a pay cut to stay with the Cowboys. He is another potential body, and perhaps even a starter, at DE if needed.
We can’t forget about Randy Gregory either, no matter how much some Dallas fans want to. Last season Randy never applied for reinstatement as, according to reports, he was trying to put his life in order to make his next attempt at football a success.
If Gregory is ready to return in 2020 and still has the same talent, he could be the answer to replacing Robert Quinn in the starting lineup. Gregory is a true sack artirst; an ideal compliment to DeMarcus Lawrence on the other side of the line.
However, any reliance on Gregory at this point has to come with a major insurance policy.
Even if Dallas can’t find the right price to get Quinn back next year, they need to pursue another solid veteran option to at least compete for a starting role.
The 2020 NFL Draft is another way Dallas might try to find their second starter at DE. While I expect the 1st-round pick to go to other positions, the Cowboys could easily use one of their Day 2 picks on a pass rusher.
A player like Boise State’s Curtis Weaver could be had on Friday. He has scheme versatility and an impressive 34 sacks in three seasons with the Broncos.
He also plays at Boise State, which means there’s a 99% chance he’s on the Cowboys’ radar.
There are plenty of other options, to be sure. And if Robert Quinn does wind up signing elsewhere, Dallas just might want to replace him with the 17th overall pick. It could potentially be the cheapest way to find an immediate starter.
But of course, the ghost of Taco Charlton still lingers.
There are clearly many ways this could all play out. But give what we’ve seen the last few years, Dallas isn’t going to take the defensive end position lightly this offseason. We remember all too painfully what our defense looks like with a weak pass rush.
Whether it’s re-signing Robert Quinn or finding a solid replacement, the second starter at DE should be one of the Cowboys’ top priorities in the 2020 offseason.