The first significant step to roster building for the 2020 season is long in the rearview mirror, and the 2020 NFL Draft has taken center stage. With everything that's gone on in our world the last month, free agency seems like it was a blur. And at the same time, it feels forever ago.
The Dallas Cowboys, though they weren't the splashiest team in free agency, did some good things to set their team up for the NFL Draft, which begins on April 23rd. They signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Maurice Canady, Greg Zeurlein, and Blake Bell in free agency finding starters and depth players for inexpensive contracts.
At this point, the depth chart looks solid. The Dallas Cowboys certainly have some work to do in the draft to get the team in shape for the upcoming season. Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth yesterday, Stephen Jones spent some time evaluating the Dallas Cowboys work in free agency.
The most important thing to note is the way he talks about the defensive tackle and safety positions.
In the quote provided by Jon Machota of The Athletic, Jones admits that under former Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, investing in defensive tackles wasn't likely to happen. Especially a player like Dontari Poe, who is generally regarded as a 1-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 or a 3-4 nose tackle. The Cowboys for years have attempted to get by with bargains on the interior, hoping that one of those players would develop and play above their pay rate. It nearly worked with David Irving, and Antwaun Woods shows flashes of being a dominant interior player. Still, the Dallas Cowboys finally made an investment in their interior that should help solidify their run defense and provide a threat of interior pressure.
Stephen Jones goes on to talk about investing in safety. While Ha Ha Clinton-Dix helps at the safety spot and is potentially an upgrade to Jeff Heath, especially in coverage, I wouldn't argue that they “invested” at safety. Yes, he's an outside free agent with a track record of production at the position, but the Cowboys only spent $4 million total and $2.5 million guaranteed on Clinton-Dix. It's certainly not nothing, but to read Jones' words, you'd think they went out and signed a premium safety.
This isn't to criticize the Clinton-Dix signing. They made a nice move to sign the former Bears and Packers safety. However, since he's only under contract for one season and fellow presumed starter at safety Xavier Woods is also a free agent in 2021. Clinton-Dix is a good short term fix at the position, but the Cowboys could still find themselves drafting a safety early or trading for a premiere safety. Otherwise, they're back in this same boat next year looking to add a safety.
Jones also mentions the addition of Maurice Canady as depth to help the cornerback group but admits that the Cowboys will continue to look at adding help.
At the moment, the most glaring needs are at cornerback and slot wide receiver, but in-house options could solve those problems.
Like every other team in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys are still a work in progress. What they're able to do in the 2020 NFL Draft will go a long way to set this team up to compete in 2020 and beyond. Though the story hasn't been entirely written on the 2019 draft class, the Dallas Cowboys need to get better contributions in year one from the 2020 draft class than last year's group provided.
The Dallas Cowboys executed their plan in free agency to sign players with solid starting experience and production to set themselves up to be open to draft in any direction they'd like. That's been their standard operating procedure for years now. They're banking on this being the year that those low-cost free agents make significant contributions and lead them deep in the playoffs.