The Dallas Cowboys made big news last night by signing 4-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Everson Griffen. So with such a big-name veteran coming in, who currently on the Cowboys roster is going to be most affected?
While he turns 33 in December, Griffen is still a high-performing player and is expected to have a major role in 2020. He’s coming off an eight-sack season and Pro Bowl appearance, plus appeared in over 77% of the Vikings’ defensive snaps in 2019. He’s still a clear starter in the NFL.
The ripple effect won’t touch DeMarcus Lawrence, obviously. Tank is still the Cowboys’ franchise player on the defensive line and will only benefit from having Griffen in the mix. Last year Robert Quinn benefited greatly from having DeMarcus on the other side of the line, and we can reasonably hope for a similar effect this year between Lawrence and Griffen.
Tyrone Crawford will take a hit. He was the presumptive starter after Robert Quinn’s exit; still finding ways to stick around despite his high salary cap number. While Griffen’s arrival won’t knock Tyrone off the roster, it could mean he goes back into more of a rotation role flexing between the DE and DT positions.
One guy who could really feel the pinch is Aldon Smith. Trying to make his NFL comeback after a five-year absence, Smith’s stock was looking up when Crawford had to go on the PUP list to start camp. He had a great opportunity to work with the starters in practice and perhaps carve out a significant role early.
But now Everson Griffen comes in without the uphill battle that Aldon faces. He should walk into that starting role and leave Smith with a tougher fight for playing time. While I expect to see Aldon plenty in 2020, especially as a pass-rushing specialist, his chances at being a Week One starter seem to have gone out the window.
The really bad news comes further down the depth chart. This likely means one less spot at DE and one of Bradlee Anae, Dorance Armstrong, or Joe Jackson likely losing their opportunity to make the 53-man roster.
Joe Jackson was going to have a hard time making it anyway. Ever before the Griffen signing you still had Lawrence, Crawford, Smith, Anae, and Armstrong as the likely top-five defensive ends. A 5th-round pick in 2019, Jackson would need to have a stellar camp to push his way into the mix.
Now you have to wonder how Anae and Armstrong will fare. The edge would seem to go to the rookie as Bradlee was just selected by our new coaching staff while Dorance is entering his third season. But Armstrong’s pass-rushing skills have earned him playing time the last two years and could keep him around now.
Mind you, Dallas could keep still keep six defensive ends. With Tyrone Crawford effectively being backup at both defensive line positions, the Cowboys could decide to hang on to an extra young DE with Crawford, Griffen, and Smith all becoming free agents in 2021.
In that case, the bad news could shift to DT and either Trysten Hill or Antwaun Woods. Even with the new coaching staff the Cowboys may not be ready to give up on Hill, their 2nd-round pick just a year ago.
Lingering loyalty to Trysten will probably mean the end for Antwaun Woods. He’ll hang around as long as Dontari Poe is on the PUP list, but once Poe is ready to play then it’s hard to see a future for Woods in Dallas.
While he’s not on the roster at the moment, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Randy Gregory as well. Still trying to get reinstated and not having an easy go of it, Gregory’s continued absence and the uncertainty of his 2020 return may be part of what prompted the Cowboys to sign Everson Griffen.
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While Cowboys fans are delighted to see Everson Griffen join the team as a true replacement for Robert Quinn, many at the DE position can’t be thrilled. He’s going to eat up a big chunk of the rotation and limit the opportunities for younger prospects and Aldon Smith who are trying to prove their worth.
Thankfully, that’s the coaches problem to figure out. Whatever the ripple effect may be, Griffen should make the Cowboys defensive line stronger and more competitive as Dallas looks to get back to the postseason.