It was clear after finishing 31st against the run and 20th in sacks last season that the Dallas Cowboys had to get better in the trenches on defense. They did quite a bit of work on the interior during free agency and the NFL Draft with the additions of Brent Urban, Carlos Watkins, Osa Odighizuwa, and Quinton Bohanna. Chauncey Golston, taken in the third round, added some depth on the interior and the edge with his versatile skill set.
There was another defensive addition on the line of scrimmage during the offseason that's flying under the radar, and that's Tarell Basham. Signed back in March to a two-year, $5.5 million deal, Basham brings versatility and experience to a pretty talented edge rush group for the Cowboys.
Basham's name isn't foreign around the city of Dallas though. After winning the MAC Defensive Player of the Year (2016) during his senior season at Ohio in which he amassed 11.5 sacks, Basham came in for a visit to the team facility ahead of the 2017 draft. Instead, the Cowboys went with Taco Charlton, and the marriage only lasted two seasons.
While with the Indianapolis Colts, Basham struggled to make an impact only logging 229 snaps in 16 games. After he was claimed off of waivers by the New York Jets in October of 2018, his misfortune continued with just 89 snaps in 10 games.
The last two seasons have been a completely different story for Basham as he's established a reputation as a high-energy pass rusher with a non-stop motor. He's registered 1,328 snaps and 11 starts and racked up 69 tackles (eight tackles for loss), 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception, seven passes defended, and 17 quarterback hits as a rotational edge rusher.
Basham has been a pretty solid player the last two seasons according to Pro Football Focus. In 2019, he had a run defense grade of 67.5 and a 67.1 pass-rush grade. Last season, he posted a 71.7 run defense grade (30th among edge rushers) and a 65.6 pass-rush grade.
He did his damage in New York mainly as a 3-4 outside linebacker but will spend most of his time as a defensive end with the Cowboys under Dan Quinn. However, that type of versatility makes him an intriguing chess piece for Quinn to play with.
It hasn't taken long for Basham to buy into what Quinn is trying to do with the Cowboy's defense this season.
“Honestly, I love working with Dan,” Basham said. “But I already knew I was going to love working with Dan. Prior to working with him, I've heard nothing but good things about him. I heard about how into the D-line and the pass rush that he was, and that right there excited me. I always wanted to play for a coach like Dan Quinn, who I knew would make me a better player than I already was.”
Although Basham is in his first season with the Cowboys, he has a clear vision of what he needs to do and what's expected of him.
“Get off the ball and make plays,” Basham said. “That's what they want. They want somebody to cause some chaos for the back, cause some chaos in the run game. They want somebody with a whole lot of energy, and that's me.”
The Cowboys usually sign veterans to one year prove it deals as they did with Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, and the aforementioned Urban. However, the fact that Basham was signed to a two-year deal shows they see value in what he brings to the table.
Basham has Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, Ron'Dell Carter, and Golston to compete with for playing time. Armstrong is the only member of the bunch that has significant time under his belt as he's logged 904 snaps since entering the NFL in 2018. The other three have just 32 defensive snaps combined on the professional level.
This puts Basham in a position to be the primary edge rusher for the Cowboys outside of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. His length, speed off the edge, athleticism, and durability (played in 58 out of a possible 64 games) at 6'4 and 266 pounds have a chance to be a very important cog in a defensive unit that's looking to be a lot better than their subpar performance in 2020.