A look at whether the Dallas Cowboys could’ve fixed their interior defensive line in the offseason through free agency.
This season didn’t have to go down like this. Had the Dallas Cowboys invested appropriately, they could have had a stout interior on defense. But instead of shoring up a position of great weakness, Dallas rolled the dice and went bargain hunting (Note: Neither of their bargain signings are even playing anymore).
The trickledown effect of their porous interior has had a tremendous impact on the health and impact of the linebacking corps. As we all know, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are only as good as their D-line allows them to be. Repeatedly, offensive linemen manhandle and break through the Dallas interior. They consistently get to the next level and the Cowboys LBs are forced to take on blockers 100+ lbs their superior.
Had the Dallas Cowboys invested properly at DT last offseason, LVE and Jaylon would be in position to be playing much better football than they are now. The question is – were there good options in free agency last offseason?
Free Agent DTs the Dallas Cowboys Could Have Signed
The 27-year-old tackle from Pittsburgh was a star of the free agent class. Hargrave was Pro Football Focus’ 8th best DT last season. E wasn’t just a stout run stopper but also a pass-rusher. In fact, his 15.1% pressure rate last year was tops in the league. Better than Aaron Donald and better than Chris Jones.
This season hasn’t gone so well for Hargrave, though. After signing a 3-year/$39M contract with Philly, Hargrave has struggled. This season he’s only managed 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for loss and isn’t nearly the force he was with the Steelers (strangely, not uncommon for front 7 players after they leave Pittsburgh).
D.J. Reader, my personal favorite from the class was just 25-years-old in the offseason and already one of the best 2-gap DTs in the NFL. At 6-foot-3 347lbs, Reader would be an ideal 1-tech on the Dallas Cowboys. Last season PFF ranked him as the 6th best and this season before he fell to injury, he’s backed it up, ranking as the 39th DT in the league. That’s a great rating for a 2-gap player focused on the running game.
Reader signed with the Bengals for 4-years/$50M. While that’s certainly a steep price, knowing what we know now it would have been well worth it. And unlike Gerald McCoy, his injury was inevitable so just because he’s hurt in Cincy does not mean he’d be hurt in Dallas.
In one of the biggest missed opportunities of the offseason, Shelby Harris was one of the best bargains of the offseason. After sitting on the market for weeks, Harris finally agreed to go back to Denver and the results have paid dividends.
The 29-year-old Harris is currently the 4th rated DT in the entire NFL (the third consecutive season he’s been in the top-20) and he’s only being paid roughly $3 million to do it. Looks like the Dallas Cowboys chased the wrong bargains…
Now, Michael Pierce may have opted out this season but that wasn’t a foreseeable event at the time free agency started last March. As such, Dallas’ disinterest in him is head-scratching.
Pierce was the trashcan full of dirt Antwaun Woods was supposed to be. His 12.0 run-stop percentage was second in the NFL and his ability to be an unmovable object was widely known. That would sure be handy this year, right?
Brockers is a mixed bag. Regarded as an underperformer Brockers was an elite talent who never quite lived up to his reputation. He signed a lucrative deal with Baltimore only to see it fall through. He re-signed an incentive laden deal to stay in LA and the rest is history.
While Brockers isn’t the caliber of player Reader and Harris are, he’s a clear upgrade over anything Dallas has/had.
At the end of the day the top prospects in the 2020 free agent class batted about .500. Some look like early busts and half look like great signings Dallas missed on. Predicting how a DT will do in a new town with a new coach and a new scheme is no easy thing. But it’s clear the Dallas Cowboys struck out last year their assessments and it’s clear good options were there for the taking.
Dallas had the money they just opted to roll the dice at DT and that burned them in the end. Hopefully this will serve as a learning opportunity for next offseason and the Cowboys finally address an area they’ve neglected for years.
- Published on 11/04/2020 at 13:01 PM
- Last updated at 11/04/2020 at 09:52 AM