Tyrone Crawford is a bit of an enigma for this Cowboys defense. He has a top-10 salary for defensive tackles and is one the highest-paid players in Dallas. The Cowboys had enough faith in Crawford to restructure his deal last March, decreasing their flexibility to release him down the road.
Despite what his contract says, though, Crawford has yet to really perform at a top level. The circumstances aren’t his fault, but nevertheless the Cowboys have been paying and handling Crawford based on the expectation for what he will become. In 2016, Crawford has to reward their faith and patience.
After entering the league as a 2012 third-round pick, Crawford was stuck in a limited backup role while Dallas was still using the 3-4 scheme. He was expected to be a key rotation player in 2013 when they switched to the 4-3 but missed the entire season with a torn Achilles.
In 2014 Dallas signed a Rod Marinelli favorite, Henry Melton, to play the three-technique tackle. It was the position that Crawford was expected to excel in but the Cowboys couldn’t be sure how he’d return from injury. Melton had a strong start but quickly faded that year, allowing Crawford to take the job. Crawford had three sacks in the last five games.
Despite Crawford’s lack of playing time and having one year left on his rookie deal, Dallas decided then to make a long-term commitment. Crawford got a five-year, $45 million contract extension with the expectation that he would blossom as a full-time starter.
Last year Crawford suffered a torn rotator cuff in Week 2. He played through the injury all season and still finished with five sacks and 27 quarterback pressures. It was a decent year but certainly not the impact that the Cowboys were hoping for with that contract.
Dallas clearly still believes in Crawford, though, as they restructured the contract. He turns just 27 this November and also missed all of 2013, giving him some extra tread on the tires. If he can finally put in a full healthy season, double-digit sacks is not unreasonable for Crawford in Marinelli’s scheme.
They will certainly need Crawford to deliver this year given other issues on the defensive lines. Last year’s team sack leader, DeMarcus Lawrence, could miss up to four games due to a drug suspension. Randy Gregory is already out four games and was expected to be a key pass rusher in certain packages.
Even after these players come back, Dallas still needs Crawford to be a disruptive force. Attacking quarterbacks has been the primary weakness of the defense for several years now. Lawrence started to break out last year, finishing with seven sacks in the final eight games. If he and Crawford can both realize their potential this year it could allow the entire defensive unit to take a huge leap forward.
He’s already paid like a star player. It’s time for Tyrone Crawford to prove the Cowboys right.