Cowboys Make First Big Free Agency Splash By Stealing Priority Free Agent Away From 49ers

Earlier reports that the defender would sign with the San Francisco 49ers were clearly premature.

Dec 30, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones applauds during the Ring of
Dec 30, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones applauds during the Ring of / Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have disappointed fans with a quiet start to free agency. Of course, "quiet" and "patient" could be two very different ways to frame things. And the signings they do end up making will really help determine which of those is the best way to describe how they handled the last couple days.

The first in what is hopefully a series of strong moves came on Wednesday night, when the Cowboys made a shocking move in signing former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Eric Kendricks.

This move is especially surprising because it had already been reported that Kendricks was signing with the San Francisco 49ers. But apparently Dallas managed to steal him away from the rival NFC contender.

Kendricks played under new Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer when they were both Minnesota Vikings, and the reunion between the two makes a lot of sense.

Zimmer was clear that he didn't like the Cowboys' approach of playing safeties at linebacker, and he planned to add size up front. A linebacker signing was inevitable, and the past relationship with Kendricks certainly would have played a role here.

But this isn't just a case of Zimmer doing a favor for an old friend. Kendricks was also one of the best linebackers available in free agency.

Kendricks is a 9-year vet who has made 127 starts over his career, even earning first-team All-Pro honors back in 2019. At 32 years old it’s also not like he’s entirely washed up or anything.

He was an every-down linebacker for the Chargers, playing 84% of the available defensive snaps. He turned that playing time into 117 tackles (7 TFLs), also earning a strong 72.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. He did grade out significantly better against the run (73.6) than in coverage (62.1), but that’s right in line with what Zimmer is looking for.

In an ideal world Kendricks is probably coming off the field in obvious passing situations at this point, but his presence on early downs and in the red zone or short-yardage situations has the potential to completely transform this Cowboys defense.

After finally making their first big move of the offseason, the Cowboys solidify their status as favorites to win the NFC East, holding a lead over the Philadelphia Eagles on all major betting markets.

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