You build a team from the inside out. What that means is that it starts on the line of scrimmage. In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys defensive line couldn’t consistently get pressure on the quarterback. It surely wasn’t from a lack of manpower, however, their play from week to week wasn’t always to the standard you would hope they set for themselves.
Now, seven players along the defensive front are headed for free agency. This could potentially put a sizeable hole in the trenches as far as depth is concerned.
Maliek Collins came into 2019 with all the motivation in the world seeing as it was a contract season. He didn’t exactly jump off the screen with 20 total tackles in 16 games. Collins did manage to get four sacks, but the consistency from game to game wasn’t there. Now, he gets to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent, and if he departs, it will leave the Cowboys looking to find another starter at the 3-technique.
Another player along the interior heading for free agency is Christian Covington. He came in during the free agency wave of 2019 to be a depth piece for the Cowboys. He managed to get 28 tackles and a sack in a reserved role, not too bad at all. He wouldn’t cost much to be retained which will work in the Cowboys favor if he’s in their future plans.
Michael Bennett and Kerry Hyder did a lot of moving around during the season having played significant time at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Bennett was acquired via trade from the New England Patriots in October, and he restructured his deal just a week later to become a free agent. In nine games, he racked up four sacks and showed he can still be effective against the run as well, with 11 of his 27 tackles being behind the line of scrimmage. Hyder signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys last March to be another depth piece in the trenches. With only 17 tackles and a sack in 16 games, he won’t exactly be a top priority to keep, however, the financial commitment wouldn’t be much if he is thought of as being a valuable piece for next season.
Robert Quinn was the prize acquisition of the Cowboys during last year’s free agency shenanigans. They only gave up a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins to get him, and it paid off mightily. In 14 games, he led the team with 11.5 sacks and added 22 quarterback hits as well. Also, he had an amazing 14.5 tackles for loss. While speaking to Mike Fisher of Sports Illustrated, Quinn expressed he’d like to stay in Dallas with his football “brothers”. The Cowboys will definitely lobby to keep him, but his price tag won’t be small, especially with the nine-year veteran getting his first crack at free agency.
Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross will also be free agents, with the former being an exclusive rights free agent, and the latter being of the restricted variety. Exclusive rights free agent is any player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expired contract. If his original team offers him a one-year contract and the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), the player cannot negotiate with other teams. A restricted free agent can negotiate with any team. If he accepts an offer from another team, his old team has what they call “right of first refusal” which is a five-day period to match the offer and retain the player. They can also choose not to and let the player go elsewhere.
With the potential of several players departing, the defensive line could be a huge focus in free agency. The Cowboys will definitely have the resources to get whatever they need to get done with close to 100 million in cap space protected for 2020.
Also, the NFL Draft will be another opportunity for the Cowboys to add defensive line help. Several mock drafts have had the Cowboys selecting defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina with the 17th pick. Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore and Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara are also prospects to keep an eye on.
Plenty of decisions to be made in the next few months when it comes to the defensive front for the Cowboys. As mentioned before, they’ll have the finances to keep whoever they see as a valuable commodity in 2020. Who will those guys be? We’ll all just have to stay tuned.