The Cowboys still have plenty of work to do this offseason with their defense. Things are thin with the linemen and there are still some major question marks in the secondary. Thankfully, free agency is still going and the draft is just five weeks away.
What about the linebacker position? Are the Cowboys set there or is more work needed?
After re-signing Rolando McClain and Kyle Wilber this month Dallas will bring back everyone who appeared in games for them last year. Here’s the full list as a quick reminder:
- Sean Lee
- Rolando McClain
- Kyle Wilber
- Anthony Hitchens
- Andrew Gachkar
- Damien Wilson
- Mark Nzeocha
- Keith Smith
Dallas won’t keep eight linebackers on their 53-man roster so, barring injury, one or two of these guys won’t even make the team. Given the numbers, how does this group fill out the depth chart and how likely is it that Dallas will look to add more talent based on what’s already here?
Staying As Is
We know Lee and McClain will be Week One starters if they’re healthy. That leaves the “Sam,” or strongside linebacker spot, open for competition. Last year Dallas tried several different players in that role looking for the best fit.
I think the fact that Dallas even brought Wilber back tells me he’s their current favorite for the role. His size and blitzing ability are the most prototypical of the current options. The contract terms, just $1.6 million per year but $1 million in guaranteed money, tell me that Dallas can feel okay about him as a backup if things go that way but also see him as a potential starter.
That leaves you with a veteran reserve and key special teams player in Gachkar, a young-but-experienced prospect in Hitchens, the less experienced Wilson, and project player in Nzeocha. You also have Smith still hanging around, having been cut and re-signed to the roster multiple times in 2014 and 2015 to help with injuries.
Any Free Agents Left?
It wasn’t a great market to begin with for linebackers and it’s a lot uglier now. You’re either looking at well-known names who are past their prime, such as Jon Beason and Chad Greenway, or younger guys coming off disappointing seasons. Nobody stands out as a clear upgrade over our current options.
One such disappointment is a familiar face; Bruce Carter. The Bucs gave Carter a four-year, $17 million contract in 2015 but cut him after the first year. Despite the money, Carter did not earn a starting job for Week One and got his only three starts of the season in the final weeks.
Carter is still just 28-years-old and knows this scheme. Dallas may not want him now but I would assume he’s on the short list to be called if they have any injuries in their camps or OTAs. If Carter got lazy after getting paid, perhaps Dallas will once again get the best out of him as he tries to save his career.
Myles Jack is available at the #4 pick in almost any mock draft. Some actually have him going to Dallas. Does this make sense given what they already have at linebacker and their other needs?
We’re all very excited about what Sean Lee and Rolando McClain can do when they’re on the field together. The problem is that that rarely happens. Over the last two years since McClain joined the Cowboys, he and Lee have only appeared in nine games together. Given that none of the other players have shown the ability to replicate what the leaders can do, adding some more talent is certainly warranted.
Not only would a player like Jack, or some other early-round prospect, provide insurance against McClain or Lee’s health now but he’d be a major leverage factor for next offseason. McClain will once again be a free agent and Dallas can use the new young stud to either keep Rolando’s price reasonable or just let him walk completely.
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So CAN the Cowboys go into 2016 with their current linebackers? Absolutely!
SHOULD they? That depends on what opportunities they’re presented with in the draft. If they get the chance to upgrade talent, perhaps adding someone better than anyone after Lee and McClain, then they every reason to make that move. It not only helps the future but has the potential to help them a lot right away.