The Dallas Cowboys made surprising move last yesterday by signing former Pro Bowl pass rusher Aldon Smith, who hasn’t played an NFL game since 2015. This signing, coupled with the hopeful return of Randy Gregory, gives Dallas a two-pronged strategy for hopefully dealing with the loss of Defensive End Robert Quinn in free agency.
After some a few down years with the Rams and Dolphins, the veteran Quinn led the Cowboys with 11.5 sacks in a bounce-back season. That performance got him a five-year, $70 million deal with the Bears this offseason and left Dallas looking for another pass rusher.
How the Cowboys’ planned to fill Quinn’s spot wasn’t entirely clear. We knew that Gregory filed for reinstatement recently, and that others players such as Tyrone Crawford and Dorance Armstrong were capable of playing as the right-side DE.
There were thoughts that Dallas might pursue a new pass rusher in the 2020 NFL Draft or in free agency. Some had their eye on Jadeveon Clowney if his asking price came down a little.
But by signing Aldon Smith last night, the Cowboys seem to have shown their hand.
Before we go further, it’s important to make a distinction between Randy Gregory and Smith. While both are having to apply for reinstatement to the NFL, they have very different records that brought them to this step.
Smith’s been involved in far seedier things than Gregory. He’s had DUIs, a domestic violence allegation, arrests, and other legal troubles. The NFL denied his reinstatement requests in 2016-2017.
Gregory has had one issue, marijuana use, and probably could’ve played last year if he’d actually applied for reinstatment. But Randy took 2019 off to devote himself to self-improvement and prepare for a successful return to football.
All reports are that Aldon Smith, while over a longer period, has made the same personal strides.
While Smith and Gregory may have had different roads to this point, they are similar in providing tremendous potential as edge rushers. Aldon had 14 sacks as a rookie in 2011 and then 19.5 sacks the following year.
While he will be 31 at the start of 2020, Smith only played two 16-game seasons in his career. From 2013-2015 he only played in 27 out of 48 regular season games due to suspension issues.
Aldon still has plenty of tread on the tires. If he also still has even half of his football talent, he can be an effective pass rusher playing opposite DeMarcus Lawrence.
The beauty of the Cowboys’ situation now is having both Smith and Gregory in this same position; two risk-reward players who now provide mutual insurance against the other.
The expectation is that both will be reinstated but it’s not guaranteed. Both sound like they’re in great places personally, but we never know if one might have a backslide. And even if all of that works great, we can’t be sure how effective either will be on the field.
But really, if only one of Aldon or Randy has a successful year, then Dallas has what they need.
DeMarcus Lawrence is still here. The Cowboys just added Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe to beef up the interior line. The opportunity for one of these enigmatic pass rushers to have a big year is incredible.
Remember, Robert Quinn was a salary dump by the Dolphins when he came to Dallas. It cost us just a sixth-round pick and now Quinn was flipped for probably a mid-round compensatory pick in 2021.
So yes, individually the moves to try and get something out of Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith come with risk. But having both mitigates that risk for the Cowboys while also increasing their odds of success.
And if either Aldon or Randy can max out their potential in 2020, or provide a combined impact, Dallas just might have something even better than Robert Quinn.