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Everson Griffen: The Final Piece to the Dallas Cowboys Defensive Puzzle

When the Dallas Cowboys decided to go in a new direction at head coach, it led to a massive overhaul of the coaching staff as well. The other thing that changed was the philosophy of the defense. All offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have worked to improve the talent on a defense that was good in 2019, but not good enough at times as the team finished 8-8.

In free agency, the added Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe to bolster their interior defensive line. Then they added a slew of cornerbacks in free agency and the draft to try to replace Byron Jones and improve the overall depth at the position. Then they surprised everyone and added Aldon Smith to help them on the edge and be a versatile piece in their hopes to play versatile defensive fronts. Now the Dallas Cowboys made another surprise move, signing former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowler Everson Griffen to a one-year deal last night.

While there has been excitement and intrigue over the signing of Aldon Smith, most realized that counting on a player who hasn’t played in five years was probably not the best plan. Sure he would give you a good upside player, but the Cowboys needed to look at finding a bonafide pass rusher to fill the void left by Robert Quinn in his departure for Chicago.

And that’s what the Everson Griffen signing did. With Griffen, the Cowboys got a guy who’s had at least eight sacks in a season six times in the last eight years. The two times he didn’t were in 2018 when he only played in 11 games but still had 5.5 sacks. And in 2013, when he played all 16 games but wasn’t a starter for Minnesota.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2014, Griffen has played in at least 15 games five of those six seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in four of the last five seasons.

Per Pro Football Focus, Griffen was 13th among edge rushers in the NFL in 2019 in total quarterback pressures with 66, more than Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Everson Griffen also had more quarterback hits that the two leading pass rushers from 2019, finishing ninth among edge rushers with 14. When lined up on the right side of the defense, nobody had more pressures, hurries, or quarterback hits than Everson Griffen.

Now, Griffen plays exclusively on the right side, while other players might move back and forth depending on which side is the strong side of the offense or the matchup.

At 6-3, 275, Griffen has the size to be a factor in the run game as well. In 2019, he finished just 28th in run-stop percentage but was better than TJ Watt, Myles Garrett, Chandler Jones, and Cameron Jordan per Pro Football Focus. In 2018, he was the 11th among edge rushers in run-stop percentage.

By bringing in Everson Griffen, the Dallas Cowboys signed a player that, like DeMarcus Lawrence, doesn’t weaken your run defense when he’s on the field. He’s a true three-down player and can be disruptive in both the run and pass game.

Now the Dallas Cowboys will deploy a defensive line that features DeMarcus Lawrence, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Everson Griffen in the starting lineup. Then they’ll be able to bring Aldon Smith, Neville Gallimore, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill, and Bradlee Anae or Dorance Armstrong off the bench.

The Dallas Cowboys learned in 2019 that a well-timed move to bring in a veteran could really make a major impact. Instead of trading for the player like they did in 2019 with Robert Quinn, they were able to get one of the best edge rushers available in the 2020 free-agent class. Everson Griffen, in addition to the other signings they made for the defensive line, significantly upgrades the defensive line from where it was in 2019.

Entering training camp, the Dallas Cowboys still had questions at cornerback and edge rusher. Through free agency and the draft, they provided enough options at cornerback that they should be able to find a suitable answer at cornerback.

The Dallas Cowboys answered the right defensive end question with an exclamation point by adding Everson Griffen. The games have to play out, and nothing is guaranteed, but this is a massive move for a team on the cusp of Super Bowl contention.

What do you think?

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John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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  1. With the Griffen signing for only a yr and this being (perhaps) the last yr for Dak seems like we’re looking at a small window here. Let’s push in all our chips and go big! Why not us?

    • The window is going to be as long as this offense stays together. They have pretty much everyone signed through 2021; Michael Gallup and Connor Wiliams will both be free agents in the 2022 offseason. But other than that, they have the offensive line pretty much solidified, Amari and CeeDee will be here. Dak will be here. Zeke will be here. Jarwin will be here.

      The core group of players is already locked up for a while. No reason to think they’re contention window isn’t several years.

  2. Think this is goin be a good season for the Boy staff has put it in place players an coaches need to make it happen .

  3. The cost will be losing a player who could use some development (ex: Carter, Jackson, Jelks, or even Gregory). On the surface, not much of a cost, but if Griffen proves to be as good as he ever was, this team won’t be able to afford him next year, and now one of those guys will have been lost (to poachers). If Griffen fails to play up to expectations, Dallas won’t want him back, and you’ve still lost one of those guys. Great move for this year though …

    • And that’s part of the plan. They were more than happy to let Robert Quinn leave in free agency and that set them up to get a comp pick and then they signed a guy like Griffen who could have a season as good as Quinn did last year.

      • I guess I’m just not a fan of 1-year purchases, and the team is already loaded with them. Jerry is wanting another Super Bowl (he needs to win one without Jimmy) so bad, that I’m afraid if he were to win it this year, he’d be okay letting a lot of these guys go and getting his cap back in shape. I’d prefer to see the team win with in-house development and youth. I mean, if Griffen is suddenly our “difference maker”, then he’s going to be able to ask for the moon as he seeks to secure his last NFL contract (and he’ll get it) … but not here, at least it would seem awfully difficult given the COVID and Dak’s situation (plus Dak will have gained financial and public leverage having now won a Super Bowl). It’s all about getting that Super Bowl and I get that, but I want more than just one!

        • The reason you go after a guy like Griffen is because you don’t have an edge rusher that can step in and be a starter and difference-maker on the right side this year. Sure, you have some young guys, but the hit rate on edge rushers after the first few rounds is pretty low. The Cowboys are set up on offense to be a contender for years to come.

      • Doesn’t Griffen work against them regarding the comp pick? As it stands today, Dallas is expected to get two reasonably high comp picks for the Jones and Quinn departures. But if Griffen plays to that level (and he better, else this doesn’t make sense), then his acquisition nullifies one of those comp picks. So you can’t put that into your equation when grading this transaction. The young guy that gets lost in this transaction (whether Carter, Jackson, etc) is a very inexpensive player with some upside that may get missed due to COVID.

          • Cool, I had forgotten about that date … all the better and thanks for a good article and dialogue. For the record, I’m on board with the move and am excited to see this play out.

            I would add that a nice young offense that seems to be in place for awhile as you note is certainly nice, but I’m still a believer that it’s the defense that will make you a consistent contender and force. But that’s a debate for another thread … nice work!

        • Currently the Cowboys are expected to get a 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th in next year’s draft.

          Those young guys were unlikely to make the team out of training camp or have much of an impact. Any of those guys you mentioned could be stashed on the Practice squad.

  4. I like the signing a lot. My only concern is what it may indicate about Aldon Smith’s ability to come back after 5 years and the state of Gregory’s reinstatement request.
    Additionally, everyone is pumped about the Poe and McCoy signings. Has anyone checked out where Carolina ranked against the run last year? They are both old guys by NFL standards and Poe missed significant time in ’19. Granted Dallas has much better LBs but guys like Woods, Gallimore and Crawford better be able to step it up inside in rotational roles at the very least.

    • I think the thing you like about the signings is that it upgraded your interior. Maybe they weren’t great in Carolina last year, but both Poe and McCoy are better players than Woods and Collins. McCoy especially gives you a much better interior pass rush, which will help Lawrence and Griffen on the outside. The DT depth is better now than it was a year ago.

  5. Hence my “small window reference ” If he’s as good as advertised the one yr rental is the worth the risk, even if we lose a young developmental guy that is way down on the depth chart. Point well taken though, gotta be careful about letting too much young talent go, although losing say a Jelks type wouldn’t bother me too much. I think A Smith concerns would more center around how much can we realistically expect from a guy that hasn’t been in football shape in 5 yrs? I think people were somewhat deluding themselves with too high expectations with that deal. I don’t think anyone was at all comfortable with what we had at DE before the Griffen signing. Agree Poe/McCoy are not in prime anymore, but I see definite upgrade there, versus the pedestrian DTs we had before. To me this team is built to win THIS YEAR

  6. Very happy about this pick-up. Everytime I watched the Vikings, he seems to be making plays, against the pass and run. Instant second best DE, but not by much, especially after Tank’s somewhat underachieving last year. At the same age as Lawrence, he was the better player, IMO. At 32, can still be a very productive. As far as losing a young player to make room, that’s just part of the game. You go with what you consider to be your best players. Been that way forever, just hope the one cut loose doesn’t sting later now. Agree with Gary b, it’s a win now situation, and these situations do not come around very often.

  7. I must say our front office guys worked the draft and free agency masterfully this off-season. Hats off to our front office for a change. The team experienced a really high caliber upgrade in every respect both player wise and coaching wise too.

  8. Hard to find a negative to this deal, though some will still try. If Griffen is good or great, he will help our team win , he’ll get a nice contract next yr and we’ll get another good comp pick. (Those comp picks are piling up). John W. Is right if we like one of our young DEs they can be stashed on prac squad. The spot Griffen takes will likely be the last guy on depth chart anyway (No big loss). Plus the loss of any young players can be mitigated by the large amt of comp picks we can use to replenish our team with more young talent for the future. For a bad team a 1 yr rental makes no sense, but to a contender it makes perfect sense. U would think to even the biggest skeptic, all of this sounds like a win win situation. Dirtythirty was right the cowboys did a great job with both the draft and free agency. If the cowboys aren’t careful they’ll start getting the reputation of having a good front office. Who’s knows what the future holds for this team, but to me the future is NOW.

  9. John u say Dak will be back, and while I like ur optimism (which is lacking in here) that’s not a sure bet. If Dak leaves would u not say that changes the whole complexion of this team and thus closes our window as far as serious contender status for the foreseeable future?

  10. Great day my COWBOYS FANS I think this team is going to shock alot of people this year. The real jewel is ALDON SMITH mark my word this dude is going to WRECK offenses. Nolen and Tomsulla are going to send him from all over the line go watch those niner games. He may MAY ! have lost a step with his conditioning but if they use him in pass rush situations and limit his snaps its going to be CRAZY ! Griffin, Crawford, Smith, Lawrence is a sick D Line all big and fast. I LOVE MY BOYS so i see super bowls every year and this year is no different. Cheers

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