While perhaps not viewed with the same importance as the pass rushers at defensive end, the defensive tackle position has been an issue in Dallas for a while. The Cowboys need to get better in the middle of the line if they want to compete in 2020.
Unfortunately, it may be difficult to upgrade this offseason. Arguably the team's top DT is a free agent and it doesn't look promising that he will return to the Cowboys next season.
2020 Defensive Tackle Contract Statuses
- Free Agents
- Maliek Collins (UFA)
- Antwaun Woods (ERFA)
- Christian Covington (UFA)
- Daniel Ross (RFA)
UFA = Unrestricted | RFA = Restricted | ERFA = Exclusive Rights
Maliek Collins has played out his rookie contract and put in four years of solid starting work. He's been arguably the team's most reliable defensive lineman for those seasons; none of the highs of DeMarcus Lawrence's time but also no major lows.
Now Collins is ready to get paid and may not be high enough on the Cowboys' priority list to get it done here. With Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, and Randall Cobb to worry about, Dallas may be content to let Maliek walk this offseason.
An even greater sign for Collins' departure is the 2nd-round pick Dallas spent last year on Trysten Hill, who is the same type and style of DT as Maliek. That move felt very much like preparation for letting Collins go in 2020.
So no, I don't expect Maliek Collins back next season. I don't think Dallas will even offer him a deal unless he's still floating in free agency and willing to accept a massive discount.
Fellow starter Antwaun Woods's free agency is much simpler to navigate. As an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, meaning he only has two accrued seasons in the NFL, Woods is basically stuck with whatever Dallas wants to pay him. And while the Cowboys may try to reward his solid play in 2019 with a modest, it isn't going to be much.
So at the very least, Dallas should have Hill and Woods back as starters in 2020.
Veteran Tyrone Crawford is a very interesting figure in this discussion. For two years now I've thought he should've been released, but circumstances in 2020 may actually work in his favor.
From the standpoint of value for what he costs, Crawford has the team's worst salary cap hit at $9.1 million in 2020. Dallas can save $8 million of that by releasing or trading him this offseason.
But with Maliek Collins probably leaving and the status of DE Robert Quinn up in the air, Tyrone is a veteran who can play both spots. It's even been reported that he's willing to take a pay cut to remain with the Cowboys.
If the parties can work out a fair salary adjustment, Crawford's presence would help mitigate risk at two positions on the defensive line. That could work out to being a fairly solid deal for the Cowboys.
Another veteran whose return would make sense is Christian Covington. He provides some needed size in the DT rotation, plus experience playing the 3-4 scheme. If the Cowboys do plan to have a more versatile approach in their defensive front, Covington is a guy who can help facilitate that.
One other way Dallas might address their DT need is through the NFL Draft. It's been a very long time since the Cowboys spent a 1st-pick on an interior defensive lineman (Russell Maryland & Kelvin Pritchett in 1991), but 2020 feels like the year it could finally happen again.
It's still early to tell how the Cowboys will lean between free agency and the draft at various position, including defensive tackle. And even though Trysten Hill was picked up last year with an eventual starting role in mind, is 2020 too soon for him to contribute?
It's just another of the many conundrums that the Cowboys face this offseason.