Justin March has been a reserve linebacker and special teams player for the Dallas Cowboys since the middle of the 2017 season. He’s back in 2020 after signing a 1-year contract, but March is still in for a fight if he wants to make the 53-man roster this season.
March was among the 2019 team leaders in special teams usage, playing on over 62% of the snaps. He was used far more sparingly on defense with just 4% share in actual plays at linebacker.
2020 will be Justin’s second 1-year contract since becoming a free agent after the 2018 season. Dallas clearly values is special teams work and has also left him a just a couple of injuries away from being needed on defense.
Turning 27 next week, March is still in his prime but isn’t really a developmental prospect. If he wants to stick around in 2020, Justin will have to be a clearly superior option to younger players with more perceived upside.
We know that Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, and Joe Thomas are the clear top four at linebacker. And as long as he builds on what we saw last year, Luke Gifford should make the team as a backup now with future starting potential.
Also vying for a spot is undrafted rookie Francis Bernard. He’s an older rookie but still a few years younger than March, plus a couple inches taller. If coaches see room for him to develop, they may prefer him in that sixth spot on the roster than a true journeyman.
The coaching staff changes could impact Justin’s job security as well. John Fassel may prefer some other types of players for his special teams units, and Mike Nolan may not be as willing to deal undersized linebackers on defense.
March has stuck around for two-and-a-half seasons now by providing value at a low cost. His 2020 contract is for only $1 million but only about 10% of that is guaranteed. If the decision comes down to money, Dallas can save more cap space by releasing Justin over Bernard or other younger players.
Of course, the Cowboys could keep seven linebackers. But it’s more likely we’ll see them go long at defensive end and other positions.
Clearly, Justin March is a player they like. They’ve brought him back two years in a row now because they value his special teams work and for LB depth.
However, given all of these factors, Justin’s spot on the 2020 roster is hardly guaranteed. As he’s done since 2017, March just has to keep on grinding and doing the dirty work.