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Dallas Cowboys 2020 Training Camp Preview: Defensive End

There’s been a lot of news coming from the Dallas Cowboys defensive line over the last week. JUst a few days ago, Dallas signed Pro Bowl pass rusher Everson Griffen to bolster the defensive end position. We’ll look at how the Griffen addition changes the landscape for the entire group as 2020 training camp begins.

Summary

Robert Quinn’s one year in Dallas produced 11.5 sacks and saw him lead the team in that category. While DeMarcus Lawrence remains the best DE on the team, and a big reason that Quinn was able to put up those numbers, losing the veteran in free agency left a big hole to fill.

The Cowboys appeared to be comfortable with a multi-faceted approach to replacing Quinn. They added Aldon Smith after a 5-year absence from the NFL to try and resurrect his career. They also held on to Tyrone Crawford despite a considerable salary cap hit and continue to work with Randy Gregory as he seeks his own reinstatement from the league as Aldon Smith received.

But then training camp began with Crawford on the PUP list and Gregory still not getting an answer from the NFL. Perhaps those factors led to Dallas finally taking Everson Griffen from the top of the list of remaining free agents.

Now the Cowboys have two clear starters in Tank and Griffen and plenty of depth options below them. In addition to the three players already mentioned, recent draft picks Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, and Bradlee Anae will all be competing for playing time and perhaps to simply remain on the 53-man roster.

Just how close are some of these battles? Who is at risk of not making the team at all? We’ll go deeper in the next section.

Should the Cowboys Pursue DE Everson Griffen?
Dallas Cowboys DE Everson Griffen (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

DE Pre-Camp Rankings

  1. DeMarcus Lawrence
  2. Everson Griffen
  3. Tyrone Crawford vs Aldon Smith
  4. Dorance Armstrong
  5. Bradlee Anae vs Joe Jackson
  6. Ron’Dell Carter vs Ladarius Hamilton

DE Competitions

Dallas isn’t giving Everson Griffen $6 million in 2020 to be a backup. While he may rotate out with Crawford, Smith, and others at times depending one the down and distance, Griffen is coming off a Pro Bowl year where he played close to 78% of the Vikings’ defensive snaps. He’s still a full-time player and a highly effective one.

The real battle begins below the starters. While Tyrone Crawford has been the resident primary backup and occasional starter for a while, Aldon Smith was once one of the best pass rushers in football. If he’s still got anything resembling his previous form, Aldon will threaten to cut into Griffen and Lawrence’s playing time as well.

Still, five years is a long time to be out of the game. While it does reduce your mileage and perhaps makes Smith a healthier 30-year-old than others, there are other losses in technique and muscle memory to deal with. That is why Crawford remains a valuable reserve.

It’s also very interesting further down the depth chart with the young guys. Dorance Armstrong is a pure pass rusher who has slowly grown his game over the last two years. Joe Jackson played little in 2019 as a rookie but brings good size and power to the position, especially if Dallas is going to be moving into some 3-4 looks under Mike Nolan.

Complicating matters for those two is rookie Bradlee Anae, who comes in as a fresh face selected by our new coaching staff. We’ve seen the shinier, newest toys often push guys off the roster and especially when there’s been a chance in coaches. Depending on how high the staff is on Anae, he may already be ahead of Armstrong and Jackson.

Also in camp are two undrafted rookies, Ron’Dell Carter and Ladarius Hamilton. They certainly can claim roster spots with strong performance; none of Anae, Armstrong, or Jackson are established enough to not face competition. But the competition is still stiff and the practice squad may be as far as either of them can get in 2020.

Lastly, what if the NFL does finally reinstate Randy Gregory in the next few weeks? Dallas hasn’t stuck with him this long for nothing; Gregory would still be one of the most talented pass rushers on the team. He would likely leap Anae, Armstrong, and any other young prospect for a spot on the depth chart.

What do you think?

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Jess Haynie

Written by 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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  1. If I’m the GM I make some roster moves with our DLine. But first everything hinges on whether or not Gregory is reinstated.
    If Gregory IS REINSTATED:
    3 options for Crawford –
    1. Paycut. / 2. Cut him / 3.PayCut + Trade
    We should trade either Crawford or Armstrong.
    We could offer 1 to Cardinals for LB Hasson Reddick
    Or offer 1 to Bengals for WR – Auden Tate or John Ross
    Or offer 1 to Bucs for TE – Cameron Brate or OJ Howard
    If Gregory IS NOT REINSTATED:
    Cut Crawford, then send a trade package of
    DE – Armstrong + CB – Awuzie
    To Bengals for
    DE – Carl Lawson + either TE – Drew Sample or
    WR – Auden Tate/John Ross
    Cutting Crawford frees up 8 mil in cap room, Bengals get a young DE Armstrong whose under contract through next season then they get a need filled at corner in Awuzie whose on final year of rookie deal. DLaw now has the D-End of future on opposite side of DLine in Lawson whose also on final year of rookie deal. Lewis will outplay/earn new contract over Awuzie so instead of just losing him to free agency we at least get a player the same age who can be 1 of our starting DE of future. Also, we either add another WR in Tate or Ross or we add another young TE in Drew Sample. Depends which Dallas prefers & who Bengals dont mind giving up.
    Dallas will have to resign Lawson but he wont be expensive & that gives Dallas option after season whether or not we want to resign either Griffen, Smith or Gregory to rotate & share the DE spot opposite of DLaw with Lawson.

    Mark my words that Lewis outplays Awuzie & will be the one to be resigned. So why not get a player in return for him now? Especially when we are overloaded at corner. With Awuzie gone we still have Lewis, Brown, Worley & rookies Diggs & Robinson. Beginning of season Lewis, Brown, Worley are the starters then if one struggles or if Diggs/Robinson look better amd more capable then one of them can take a starting spot.
    Release Thompson, let Wilson & eithwr Worley or Robinson to be the backups at safety.
    Thats consolidating + solidifying future at secondary

    • Nice thought and input JK. Lots of stuff in there I don’t particularly care for or agree with, but a good read nonetheless.

    • As much as I like Jourdan Lewis, it’ll be too hard for me to say he’ll be better than Chido!! Plus he’s a nickel corner, and we just signed Brown to a 3 year contract to play that position!! Chido is an outside corner so either way you look at it Chido has the best chance to get a second contract over Lewis!! And another thing is that you said Lawson won’t be expensive to resign, but I think your wrong on that part too!! He won’t be Lawrence expensive, but he’ll be up there in price!!

  2. I like the combination of savvy and youth at the DE position as it sits right now (and I’m assuming Crawford will now slide inside more often than not). If Anae, Jackson, and one of Carter or Hamilton pan out, then they could have a nice core for a number of years.

  3. With gerald mccoy being injured/released Tyrone Crawford is more valuable than ever. He can play the 3 tech and end and is a great leader. No way hes traded cut or released. And no way they trade awuzie rn.

  4. I think our front off did a great job putting this team together, seemingly made all the right moves with the present and future in mind. Very underrated part of any organization is the GM/ scouts and other personnel responsible for drafting/FA acquisitions, as well as who to sign in house and for how much. Construction of a team is much like a puzzle and the cowboys did good job making the parts fit. The only questionable signing IMO was giving ZEKE huge money with 2 YRS left on contract. I would’ve rolled with the dynamic Pollard as our lead RB on his rookie contract for next
    3 yrs, and used all that Zeke money on shoring up the Defense. As far as the DE position we do need some of the young guys to make a jump and distinguish themselves, as we will more than likely be looking for a DE opposite Lawrence again next yr and doubtful we can afford to resign Griffen. We’ll see with A Smith no telling what he gives us this yr ….Lot of guys in last yr of contract. This team could look much different along the D line and in the secondary next season.

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