We'll have a lot of new faces on the 2021 Dallas Cowboys roster; some from free agency and others from the NFL Draft. Today I thought we'd focus in on those veteran free agents and discuss which of them will have the biggest impact on this year's team.
This question doesn't work so well with the rookies; all eyes are on Micah Parsons first and then everyone else. Parsons is the easy and logical pick to have the biggest impact as the 12th-overall pick in 2021 given the playing time and huge role he's almost guaranteed to have,
The picture isn't quite so clear among the free agent additions. While you could follow the money and go with safety-turned-linebacker Keanu Neal, not to mention his past Pro Bowl appearance, some other projected starters have opportunities to be just as impactful.
One thing we can be certain of is that the correct answer will be from someone on the defense. The Cowboys' biggest offensive free agent addition (not counting re-signings) was 35-year-old Ty Nsekhe as a potential swing tackle. Our hope is to never actually see him on the field.
It's a bit different for guys like Neal, Brent Urban, and Damontae Kazee on the defensive side. These new Cowboys are all expected to start and contribute, hopefully providing upgrades from what we had in 2020 in the same spots.
When I polled Cowboys Nation recently on Twitter, it's no surprise that the responses focused on these three players.
Brent Urban is a solid run stopper who will win this designation simply because he will be light years better than last years options.
I have to say Damontae Kazee because what this Defense really needs is turnovers and he shown in the past that he gets them. It will hopefully be contagious.
Dan Quinn's cover 3 concept puts an extra safety in the box; look for Keanu Neal to have a huge role against opposing tight ends and against the run.
Brent urban the entire staff has spoken highly about him, besides being a highly top rated run defender your seeing his veteran leadership already in the locker room which is key after loses of Lee and Crawford
I want to say Urban,the long snapper,Neal,or the punter (if he beats out Niswander) …but I'm go with Kazee…if healthy he is best safety we have had in years …I see this defense having over 30 takeaways n Kazee will be a part of it (prediction:5 Ints)
So with this consensus established for the top three, who do I think will be the most significant addition to the roster in 2021?
The funny thing about Keanu Neal is that, despite getting the most money from Dallas and having best career so far of the three, he's also got a lot of competition to deal with. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are still here plus now there's Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox in the mix.
Plus, it can't be underestimated that Neal is changing positions. While going from safety to linebacker may not be a big leap in certain responsibilities, it does give him an extra degree of risk and challenge from the other two.
Brent Urban is here to do what he's always done; stop the run from the DT position. Same with Damontae Kazee at safety; cover the pass and create turnovers.
Even if Neal makes a smooth transition to LB, what if LVE and Jaylon have the bounce-back seasons under Dan Quinn that we're hoping for? What if Parsons and Cox hit the ground running and get the coaches excited?
Keanu's contract is only for one year. If the Cowboys see bright futures for any of their younger talent, Neal could quickly lose snaps to these players and have his impact potential limited.
Urban's position doesn't seem quite so precarious at DT but it's not untouchable. While he'll likely be a regular feature in the base scheme and run-stopping situations, Brent may not stay on the field long as Dallas looks to get Nevill Gallimore, Trysten Hill, and rookie Osa Odighizuwa involved.
When it comes to opportunity and lack of competition, Damontae Kazee probably has the best chance of rarely leaving the field. As long as he's fully recovered from an Achilles injury last year, the 5th-year veteran has a chance to to bring stability as a true free safety and more ideal partner for Donovan Wilson in the defensive backfield.
Additionally, the big play potential is where Damontae grabs my attention. Kazee had 10 interceptions from 2018-2019 for the Falcons. The entire Cowboys defense had just 16 picks over those same two years, and only 10 as a team in 2020.
Just a few interceptions will have a big effect on how we perceive Kazee. It's an advantage compared to a guy like Brent Urban, whose dirty work in the trenches won't be as noticeable or as heralded.
But in addition to the big plays, Kazee can also do a lot to help the overall solvency on pass defense. Xavier Woods went from a diamond-in-the-rough in 2018 to an utter disaster last season. If he's even average in pass coverage, Damontae can improve things significantly in that role from the last guy.
All three of Keanu Neal, Brent Urban, and Damontae Kazee have great potential to make meaningful impacts on the 2021 Dallas Cowboys. But if I look their opportunities based on competition and projected playing time, the odds seem to favor Kazee most of all.