Dallas Cowboys: Are there too many linebackers on the roster?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The first round of the NFL Draft surprised a lot of fans when the Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons 12th overall. A few rounds later, the Cowboys doubled down at the linebacker position and added Jabril Cox, which brought their total to nine currently on the roster (including the one after the draft in the undrafted period).

That seems like quite a few linebackers for a team that runs more 2-LB looks than 3-LB looks. So the question is whether the Cowboys have more linebackers than they can fully use in the season.

Do the Dallas Cowboys now have too many linebackers on the team?

First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room with Leighton Vander Esch. LVE has had an injury-prone start to his pro career and there’s questions as to whether he can ever stay healthy for a full seventeen-game schedule. Vander Esch also has a neck condition that seems to put his career in constant jeopardy.

The Cowboys must feel the same since they passed up his fifth-year option last week (making 2021 his last under contract). Some people are wondering if LVE will even be on the team this year.

The second elephant in the room is Jaylon Smith. Smith’s play has taken a massive downturn once teams realized he has issues in space and does most of his flash plays coming downhill. Smith’s issues have been amplified with a below-average defensive line, and unless the Cowboys have fixed the line, the entire linebacker corps could suffer.

What happens to Smith is anyone’s guess, but unless there is a post-June-1 trade, he will be on the roster for 2021 due to the cap hit and dead money.

Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox are not going to be cut in training camp, and while both play an entirely different style of linebacker, the Dallas Cowboys will try to find ways to get Parsons on the field sooner than later. Parsons is more of a downhill linebacker who does not have a lot of experience in coverage. Cox is more of a coverage style linebacker who can also come downhill, however, not in the same manner that Parsons has flashed.

That brings us to Keanu Neal, who signed in free agency to play a linebacker/safety hybrid role and will likely play most when the Cowboys need more coverage and less blitzing.

The depth behind the top five guys is Tarell Basham, another free agent pickup, Luke Gifford, last year’s rookie in Francis Bernard, and undrafted free agent Anthony Hines. Hines at first glance is the odd man out, but he will get a chance to unseat Bernard, Gifford, and Basham.

So, “Do the Cowboys have too many linebackers?” Yes, the short answer is they have at least one too many, but whether they keep all eight or not is something we will have to keep an eye on. The longer answer is might still be yes, but it will depend on how the Cowboys want to play each player and the roles they give them.

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Cox and Neal could be in the mix for the linebacker/safety hybrid as both are better in coverage than the other linebackers. LVE has the health questions which could open the door for others. The Cowboys will find ways to get both Parsons and Smith on the field when they want to apply pressure on the quarterback or have their linebackers come downhill in run support. The linebacker position takes a physical toll so the Cowboys will probably keep at least six on the roster.

Dallas Cowboys aggressively targeted position flex in 2021 offseason. dark. Next

Guessing the six that will be on the final roster, LVE, Smith, Parsons, Cox, Bernard, Basham. Gifford is the wildcard and could replace Bernard with Bernard being moved to the practice squad. The Cowboys could move Neal or Cox to a “safety” assignment to open up the option to keep another linebacker. Their success will hinge on the defensive line play, and the Cowboys hope they have fixed it enough so their plethora of linebackers look like the investment will have paid off.