Veteran Carlos Watkins was one of Dallas' earliest free agent additions in 2021. But after other signings and draft picks at defensive tackle for the Cowboys this offseason, could Watkins not even make it past final cuts?
Carlos played out his rookie contract with the Houston Texans after being a 4th-Round pick in 2017. While Watkins only had 18 total starts in Houston, 11 of them came last season in his highest activity level thus far. He posted career highs of two sacks and 27 tackles in 2020.
A defensive end in the Texans' 3-4 scheme, Watkins is expected to play defensive tackle in the Cowboys' defense. When he was originally signed, Dallas only had Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore under contract and lots of uncertainty about the rest of the depth chart.
But the same day that Watkins became a Cowboy, so did another veteran in Brent Urban. Both got one-year contracts at $1.75 million, but only $400k of Carlos' deal was guaranteed money. Urban's entire contract is guaranteed and gives him significantly more job security.
To make matters worse, the Cowboys later spent a 3rd-Round pick on UCLA's Osa Odighizuwa and a 6th on Kentucky NT Quinton Bohanna. Even after releasing Antwaun Woods shortly following the draft, Dallas is carrying plenty of defensive tackle prospects into their 2021 training camp.
While a lot can change once these guys start practicing in Oxnard, right now Carlos Watkins feels like the sixth man on this list. The money tells you something between he and Urban, plus the Cowboys have significant draft capital tied up in Hill, Gallimore, and Odighizuwa.
Bohanna is hardly a lock as a late-round rookie but feels like exactly what the team is looking for in as a true run stuffer among their tackles. Over five years younger than Watkins, cheaper, and with a fresh four-year contract, Quinton will have to be considerably worse on the field to lose that battle.
Of course, Carlos Watkins could completely change perceptions with his performance over the next two months. Hill and Gallimore were draft picks from past coaching staffs and may not have as many thumping the table for them now. If Watkins is a real standout then those factors won't even come into play.
That said, expecting Watkins to emerge as a star now is unrealistic. Anything can happen but it's far more likely that he stays on the bubble and probably doesn't make the roster over Urban or these younger prospects. The $1.35 million in cap space that Dallas can save by cutting Carlos is going to be hard to overcome.
The Cowboys have brought in veteran free agents before and discarded them at final cuts. We just saw it last year with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a much higher-profile player at a position of considerable need.
Clearly, Carlos Watkins is here to compete and provide veteran insurance against injuries or development issues from younger talent. But if neither of those things happen, it's hard to see a place for him on the Cowboys' 2021 roster. For his sake, hopefully camp and preseason play start turning some heads.