The defensive end position has been the hottest topic for the Dallas Cowboys so far in the 2019 offseason. But despite contract negotiations, acquisitions, suspensions, and bar brawls involving various players, one name you haven’t heard much is 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton. Where does he fit into all of this activity?
There’s no denying that it’s been a disappointing start to Charlton’s NFL career. Even as a 28th-overall pick, the expectations of quick impact come with anyone taken in the first round.
Worst for Taco is that he went into this offseason on a bit of a down note. Late last year, he missed a few games as a healthy scratch from the active 46-man game day roster. There were murmurings that he’d fallen out of favor with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, with his work ethic being brought into question.
Even with a couple of solid games in Weeks 16 and 17, the lasting impression of Charlton has been the disappointment. And now that Dallas has made a trade for veteran DE Robert Quinn and signed free agent Kerry Hyder, some are speculating that they’ve already soured on him.
But if you look at the big picture at defensive end, and particularly beyond 2019, you can see why the Cowboys shouldn’t throw in the towel on Taco just yet.
Just look at the contract situations for their current DE talent:
- DeMarcus Lawrence – Franchise tagged, currently unsigned
- Randy Gregory – TBD pending suspension
- Tyrone Crawford – Likely salary cap casualty in 2020
- Robert Quinn – One-year deal
- Kerry Hyder – One-year deal
- Taco Charlton – Signed thru 2020, team option in 2021
- Dorance Armstrong – Signed thru 2021
As you can see, Dallas doesn’t really have a stockpile of defensive ends beyond this season. Even if they get Lawrence signed to a long-term deal, all those names between Tank and Taco are suspect to be part of the team beyond 2019.
That means the Cowboys can’t afford kick Charlton to the curb just yet. If anything, they should be rooting hard for him to deliver on that first-round potential.
Positive signs from Taco in 2019 would mean getting a potential discount for a starting defensive end in 2020, when he still counts just $3.2 million on the last year of his rookie deal. Dallas would also need to decide what to do about the fifth-year option in 2021, which currently projects to be around $9.5-10 million for a defense end taken in the late first round.
If Charlton can finally play up to his perceived potential from two years ago, then those would be bargain prices.
The problem that Taco Charlton now faces, though, is getting the opportunities in 2019 to show what he can do going forward. The Cowboys seem to be loading up on DE players, and they may still have Randy Gregory back next year despite his current situation.
Last season, Taco only appeared on 39% of the team’s total defensive snaps. That number could go down now that Quinn is in the mix.
Dallas’ aggressive move to obtain Quinn may suggest that they’re worried about some players’ availability. At the least, they’re covering themselves in case things don’t go right with Lawrence’s contract talks or Gregory’s reinstatement.
If either of those situations were to end unfavorably, that could help open the door for Taco’s playing time next year.
Another scenario to consider is that the Cowboys might look to trade Charlton at some point this year, perhaps even during the upcoming draft. They’re certainly not going to get back a first or even second-round pick at this point, but a DE-needy team might be willing give up something for a guy with 2-3 years left on his contract.
The point here is that we shouldn’t mistake these other moves at defensive end this offseason as a sign that the Cowboys will just cut bait with Taco Charlton this offseason. He still has value to them given his contract, and potentially to other teams in a trade. Maybe someone else who liked him in the 2017 draft would think they can get more out of him than Dallas has.
Despite the disappointing start, Taco may still have a positive impact on the Cowboys one way or another.