While the Dallas Cowboys should be very happy with their offseason thus far, two areas that could still use some help are defensive end and linebacker. If Dallas has interest in adding more talent through free agency in 2020, one player who could help both spots is sixth-year veteran Markus Golden.
Coming off a season with 10 sacks for the New York Giants, Golden still being on the open market is a bit surprising. He turned just 29 in March and was more productive rushing the passer last season than most players from this year’s free agent group.
One of those free agents was Robert Quinn, who capitalized on his bounce-back season in Dallas and signed a lucrative deal with the Chicago Bears. Quinn’s departure has left the Cowboys looking to replace his 11.5 sacks in 2019.
Dallas’ current strategy seems to be multi-faceted. Still having DeMarcus Lawrence on one side of the line, the Cowboys have loaded up on risky options for the other.
Tyrone Crawford, despite being ripe for a salary cap casualty, appears to be coming back. But Crawford isn’t a great pass rusher from the DE position; his value is more in run formations and rushing from the inside.
Prospects Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, and Jalen Jelks are also still under contract. Armstrong has flashed some intriguing potential at times, but counting on any of them would be a huge gamble.
A different kind of gamble is what Dallas is doing with Randy Gregory and newly-signed Aldon Smith. Expecting both to be reinstated in 2020, the Cowboys are hoping at least one will be able to resurrect his career and be an upper-tier pass rusher.
Dallas also drafted DE Bradlee Anae with a 5th-Round pick last week. While he was considered a steal for where he was selected, counting on him for an immediate impact would also be questionable.
So yes, lots of options but also plenty of risk. Personally, I’m a fan of the Gregory/Smith idea and believe one of them or the combined impact of both will sufficiently replace Robert Quinn.
But if the Cowboys wants to mitigate risk with a more proven commodity, Markus Golden could be the right guy for the right price.
A 2nd-Round pick in 2015, Golden emerged a pass-rushing threat for the Cardinals as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He put up 12.5 sacks in his second season, but an ACL tear ended his third year after just four games.
Markus only played in 11 games the following year and put up 2.5 sacks. Arizona elected not to re-sign him after his rookie contract ended and Golden took a one-year deal with the Giants.
Last year Golden rebounded with 10 sacks for New York playing as an outside linebacker and pass rusher. While he’s not ideal for the 4-3 defense, his versatility may well suit what the Cowboys plan to do in 2020.
While not switching to the 3-4 scheme under Mike Nolan this year, Dallas has expressed a plan to employ some “3-4 philosophies” in their defense. One of those is the use of designated pass rusher, as well as probably throwing some occasional 3-4 looks at opponents.
While Jaylon Smith could also play the role of a pass-rushing outside linebacker, Markus Golden has more experience and ideal size for the role.
Reports from early April had Golden looking for $10 million per year in his next contract. But with another month and the NFL Draft having passed, he might be more flexible now.
Dallas could easily fund the move by cutting Tyrone Crawford and putting that $8 million in cap space toward Golden. Now that they’re flush with defensive tackles after signing Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, plus draft Neville Gallimore, it would arguably be a better use of the money than keeping Crawford.
What’s more, signing Markus Golden also takes him away from a division rival.
One factor in this discussion is the news, just as of Monday, that New York has used a little-known provision on Golden called the “unrestricted free agent tender.” This could dissuade Dallas and other teams from signing him as it would hurt their compensatory pick formula for 2021.
Basically, because Markus remained unsigned as of April 27th, the Giants were able to use this provision to help secure him for next year. If Golden is unable to find a new team before July 22nd, he would return to New York at a 110% of his prior year’s salary.
That would be a steal for the Giants; a little over $4 million for their top pass rusher.
Golden is free to negotiate with teams now and sign anywhere he likes. But the use of the UFA tender means he would still count against the compensatory pick formula even after Monday’s deadline passed.
The Cowboys are expecting an attractive package of compensatory picks in 2021. The deals signed by Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, Randall Cobb, and others with new teams far outweighed Dallas’ free agent additions. They are currently projected to receive extra picks in each of Rounds 3-6.
Signing Markus Golden to what he’s wanting would likely cost them one of those mid-round picks. But given the total haul they’re expecting, should Dallas really lose sleep over it?
We’ve seen how quickly things fall apart on defense without a pass rush. And given the risks Dallas is already taking with their defensive backs this year, should they also play fast and loose with pressuring the quarterback?
Again, I have high hopes for what Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith can accomplish in 2020. But I’d be just fine with the Cowboys hedging their bets by signing Markus Golden or another more reliable option.
And if it also means preventing him going back to the Giants? Bonus!