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.
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.
DE Pre-Camp Rankings
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Everson Griffen
- Tyrone Crawford vs Aldon Smith
- Dorance Armstrong
- Bradlee Anae vs Joe Jackson
- Ron'Dell Carter vs Ladarius Hamilton
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.