Dallas Cowboys: 3 comprehensive steps to rebuild the defense

Gerald McCoy, DT, Free Agent Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Gerald McCoy, DT, Free Agent Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /
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Gerald McCoy, DT, Free Agent Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys free agency plan

Sign Gerald McCoy

It’s so easy to forget that Dallas signed McCoy at the beginning of last free agency. This signing was the start of a paradigm shift from relatively inexpensive, but also relatively unknown defensive linemen to less inexpensive and more well-known commodities on the defensive line. Unfortunately, a torn right quad ultimately led to the release of McCoy before his time in Dallas could really take off.

Now the obvious issue with McCoy is that he’s coming off of a torn quad injury at the age of 32 years old. Father time is undefeated; this coupled with significant injuries leads to the Everson Griffen experiment. (It took him about eight weeks to gain any semblance of his 2019 self but by then the Cowboys needed to tear some things down)

Recognizing age and injury history, McCoy likely comes at a cheap price. He only signed with the Cowboys for $6 million per year, his price tag is likely lower this time around. With McCoy, you don’t get someone as explosive but you get someone with a relentless motor, good use of hands, consistent pad level, and good leadership. Having someone like him on early rushing downs can do some serious work inside especially considering that the interior defensive line is still not very good at stopping the run.

It’s pretty clear that McCoy isn’t the pass rusher he once was, but there is still some value in signing him again.

Re-sign Kerry Hyder

Hyder was an under the radar signing in Dallas but was well respected in the locker room. The undrafted Texas Tech Red Raider has the Tyrone Crawford build which conveniently allows him to play inside and outside. That type of versatility was welcome by former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli even if the results didn’t always make the case for it.

After an underwhelming year with an underwhelming defense, Hyder took his talents to the west coast to play for Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers. I’m not sure Shanahan or DC Robert Saleh could’ve expected the resurgence of Hyder with the change of scenery.

In eleven games, nine of which he’s started, Hyder has 21 solo tackles, eight tackles for loss, 17 QB hits and 7.5 sacks. These numbers are or near career highs and HE’S ONLY PLAYED ELEVEN GAMES! When Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas and went down with ACL tears, Hyder stepped in and has done a fantastic job in relief.

His current salary is $1.5 million so the expectation is he makes a lot more over a lot of years. Hyder is only 30 and still shows plenty of power and strength that can help a defensive line for years to come. Guess where the Cowboys could use some defensive help?

You see the McCoy and Hyder signing propositions and are probably confused. I get it! Signing popular veterans clearly wasn’t the answer this offseason but that can’t discourage the team from making active attempts at getting better. Moves like this also prevent the team from unnecessarily reaching for a position of need in the draft. This approach last season netted CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs in back to back rounds instead of K’Lavon Chaisson and Neville Gallimore in the first two rounds.

When people stress the “best player available” mindset, getting veteran pedigree at every position makes this a feasible idea.

Cut Jaylon Smith

This is probably on most people’s minds because there likely wasn’t a worse contract extension from the 2019 offseason than Jaylon Smith’s. At the time there was some, albeit very skeptical, reasoning as to why the extension made sense. Smith had a good season leading the team in tackles. Two years later and that version of Smith is very rarely if ever seen.

That said, the public perception of Jaylon Smith’s play in 2020 is teetering on the lines of “practically unplayable”. There are definitely some moments where he just hasn’t looked good, but without a doubt, Smith gets called out a lot for things that aren’t actually his fault. Back to the contract though…

Fortunately, $23 million of the contract was absorbed this year in dead cap and $26 million was absorbed the year before. Next season the team will accrue $9.4 million in dead cap, which is significantly less than the $23 million from this season, but only marginally less than the $9.8 million cap hit for the 2021 season. In theory, the best time to opt-out of the contract is in 2022, but if the Cowboys are serious about signing QB Dak Prescott to a long-term deal, it might be smart to rid the contract in order to find a more effective way to pay Prescott’s salary.

In a perfect world, the team trades him to someone willing to absorb the contract and get a late-round pick out of it. That isn’t a very likely possibility. Being cut, Smith could choose his team and role in hopes of bouncing back to his 2018 form if that’s possible.

The biggest issue here is that the Cowboys seem intent on Jaylon Smith being an integral part of this team for years to come, which is concerning…