Biggest Needs Dallas Cowboys Have Yet to Address This Offseason
To date, the Cowboys have lost three starters in their secondary, one starting defensive tackle and one starting guard due to free agency. They've also lost their starting right tackle due to retirement and have lost numerous other players that played big roles in 2016. They've lost a significant amount of depth so far this offseason.
But the Cowboys have just started their shopping. To date, they have signed only cornerback Nolan Carroll and Stephen Paea, but you can bet that Dallas isn't done bringing in talent quite yet. With Dallas still having a number of needs, specifically on defense, the team will need to add more talent via free agency.
Here is a list of players the Cowboys could target in free agency and a list of positions they may try to add to in the draft.
It is no secret that the Cowboys have a need for a defensive end, specifically a pass-rusher. In 2016, free-agent addition Benson Mayowa led the team in sacks with six. Over the course of the last four seasons, the Cowboys have failed to find a defensive end who could total double-digit sacks in a season. In fact, they haven't been able to find an end who has had more than eight sacks over that same time period.
Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely they will be able to find that star rusher this late in free agency. Instead, Dallas may have an interest in some older pass-rushers who could add a little juice off the edge in a rotational role.
Typically, Rod Marinelli doesn't prefer older players on his defensive line, but after their interest in 34-year old Cameron Wake of the Dolphins at the trade deadline, per SiriusXM NFL Radio, maybe their philosophy has softened some.
Here are the names of a few pass-rushers who are still available in free agency that could provide a nice boost to the Cowboys defensive line:
Elvis Dumervil—Age: 33
Dumervil only played in eight games in 2016 after battling a foot injury for most of the year. In limited action, he was still able to produce three sacks despite nursing that injury. His age and health are a concern, but he's not that far removed from his 17-sack year in 2014.
Dumervil graded out as the 41st 3-4 outside linebacker, according to the NFL1000. However, his overall score was hurt by a low coverage grade. If Dallas were to sign the former Baltimore Raven, he could be a part-time defensive end who could give them speed off the edge.
Dwight Freeney—Age: 37
Many thought the Cowboys should have signed Dwight Freeney last summer when he was a free agent. Jerry Jones cited optimism with Benson Mayowa and Charles Tapper as reasons why the Cowboys weren't interested. But after seeing Freeney play well (22nd ranked defensive end in the NFL1000) in 2016, and as he helped mentor Vic Beasley, maybe the team takes a second look at him in 2017.
If the Cowboys could keep his snap count low and limit the number of times he's asked to play on obvious run downs, Freeney could help the team as a situational pass-rusher late in free agency.
The Cowboys will also take a close look at some of the pass-rushers in the first few rounds of the draft. But it's not a lock that they will take one in the first round or one at all.
With DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, David Irving, Tyrone Crawford and Charles Tapper at defensive end, Dallas needs a playmaker here. What it doesn't need is another body, and if the team doesn't grab one early, it may not be worth grabbing one at all.
In 2012, the Cowboys signed Brandon Carr to a massive deal and traded up to the No. 6 overall pick to select Morris Claiborne. With Orlando Scandrick already on the roster, the Cowboys thought they had their starting cornerback unit ready to go for the next 10 years.
Last week, both signed elsewhere in the AFC and the Cowboys' depth at cornerback is quite concerning. On the roster are two 30-year old cornerbacks in Nolan Carroll and Orlando Scandrick, and second-year player Anthony Brown.
The Cowboys will likely bring in another player via the draft, but there are some left in free agency who make sense. Here are two players who could interest the Cowboys at corner:
Patrick Robinson—Age: 29
Like Nolan Carroll, Dallas had some interest in Patrick Robinson in 2016. In fact, they met with him and offered him a three-year deal, according to David Morris of the Dallas Morning News (h/t SportsDay). But after switching agents, Robinson decided to sign with the Colts instead.
Robinson struggled with injuries in 2016, only playing in seven games. Eventually, he was sent to injured reserved and was released by the Colts as a salary-cap dump. If the Cowboys want to add another veteran cornerback to their roster at what would probably be a cheap price, Robinson makes sense.
At 29, he could provide a nice bridge to the rookie they will likely bring in via the NFL draft.
Brandon Flowers—Age: 31
Much like Patrick Robinson, Flowers was a productive player in 2016 when he was on the field. He only started six games after a concussion sent him to injured reserve. Flowers was released by the Chargers in a move that saved $7 million in cap space.
But when he was on the field, Flowers was one of the better corners in the league. He finished 31st in the NFL1000 rankings of cornerbacks; higher than Brandon Carr or Anthony Brown. Providing his medical information checks out, it may be worth bringing in Flowers to compete for a starting gig. Obviously, he still has the talent to be a nice role player in the NFL and if the price is right, he could end up in Dallas.
If the Cowboys decide to pass on bringing in a free-agent cornerback, this draft is littered with possible selections in nearly every round. In case you missed it, here are five names in the draft that could make sense for Dallas at cornerback.
Over the course of the past three seasons, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have combined to play 5,745 snaps on defense for the team. But now both are gone and that leaves a massive hole open at one of the safety positions.
Behind starter Byron Jones, the cupboard is quite bare. The favorite to take the job is special teams ace Jeff Heath. Sixth-round pick Kavon Frazier is in the fold, but he was barely able to crack the field as a rookie and only played 36 snaps on defense.
That leaves a potential spot open for a veteran safety who could start for a year or two until Dallas finds a suitable replacement. There aren't many options left, but here are some of the best available safeties in free agency:
Ladarius Webb—Age: 31
After making the move from cornerback to free safety, Ladarius Webb proved to be a better-than-average player at his new position. But after Baltimore signed prize free agent Tony Jefferson, the Ravens decided to move on from the 31-year-old Webb.
Webb isn't known for his playmaking ability, but his quick feet and ability to cover slot receivers makes him a nice asset to a defense. Webb graded as the 10th-best free safety in 2016, according to the Bleacher Report NFL1000. If the Cowboys want to continue to have Byron Jones play down in the box against tight ends, Webb makes sense as a center fielder at what should be a reasonable price.
If the Cowboys are looking for more of a true strong safety, former 49ers and Redskins player Donte Whitner may make sense on a cheap deal. Like Barry Church, Whitner's best play comes when he's down in the box, almost as if he's an extra linebacker. However, Whitner struggled in 2016 in Washington. He finished 45th out of 53 strong safeties in the NFL1000.
Paired with former defensive back coach Greg Jackson, Whitner may make sense as a veteran leader in the safeties room. He's a flawed player who is approaching the age of 32, but he could work for Dallas if they want Byron Jones to play more of a true free safety role.
If the Cowboys can't find a safety to their liking in free agency, the draft is loaded with talent, especially in the first round. Players such as Washington's Budda Baker, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers and Connecticut's Obi Melifonwu all make sense at the bottom of the first round for Dallas. There's clearly a need here, but Dallas has a lot of options in how they choose to fill that need.
2016 was an odd year for the Cowboys in terms of their running backs catching passes out of the backfield. They had the fewest amount of receptions by their running back in a Scott Linehan offense in his career. Much of that could be due to Dak Prescott and the fact he ran the ball more than any Cowboys quarterback in the past decade.
With Lance Dunbar leaving in free agency, the Cowboys are in need of a pass-receiving back who can act as a receiver on 3rd-and-long This running back also needs to be able to handle return duties in a pinch in case the starter goes down. With free agency slowing down, here are two running backs who would make sense on a cheap deal for Dallas:
Branden Oliver—Age: 25
Oliver didn't play in 2016 after an Achilles injury in preseason ended his year. But when he's healthy, the 5'8" 208-pound running back is one of the more dynamic receivers out of the backfield in the NFL. During his rookie year, he caught 36 passes as a part-time player.
His injuries make him a risk and one that should only cost the Cowboys a small fee. Oliver's market will be small as he's recovering from his injury, but he's worth bringing to camp to see if he still has any of his explosion left.
Dexter McCluster—Age: 28
At one point in time, the Cowboys were relatively high on Dexter McCluster. In 2010, the Cowboys had a third-round grade on him. But McCluster has bounced around the league since being drafted in the second round by the Chiefs. He's never been able to find a full-time role, but as a receiver and a returner, McCluster could carve out a nice role in Dallas.
Luckily for Dallas, this draft is loaded with running backs, specifically ones who can contribute on third down. Players such as Donnel Pumphrey and Stanley Williams can be had late on day three and could make an immediate impact on the Cowboys' passing game.
The Cowboys' linebacker situation is one of the more intriguing positions on their roster. The only known commodity is Sean Lee. When he's healthy, he's one of the top linebackers in the entire league. Everyone knows about his durability issues throughout his career, so it's vital that Dallas builds up this unit with proven players and depth.
But that's the problem. Outside of Lee, there is no one player that you can rely on to give the team quality snaps in 2017. Jaylon Smith was drafted to secure the middle for Dallas, but it sounds like he will have to do so using an AFO brace, something that's never been done before by an NFL linebacker.
Behind Smith are a bunch of young players who best project as backups in the NFL. Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson and Mark Nzeocha are all relatively young players, but none are viewed as the future at linebacker for Dallas. If Jaylon Smith's foot isn't ready to go by the NFL draft, linebacker is a position the team could address early.
Players such as Duke Riley of LSU and Raekwon McMillian of Ohio State could be targets for Dallas as soon as the second round. But with Dallas having so many other holes on defense and throughout their team, they may choose to sign a veteran linebacker to hold down the fort until Jaylon Smith returns or one of their young players is ready. Here are a couple of names that could make sense in Dallas:
Justin Durant—Age: 31
Durant re-signed with the Cowboys in 2016 after leaving for Atlanta in 2015. Durant isn't a great player, but when he's healthy, he makes sense in the middle of Rod Marinelli's defense. At best, he's an average linebacker who knows the system, and he could allow Dallas to not rush Jaylon Smith onto the field. There are better options out there, but this happens to be a player they know well and trust.
Sio Moore—Age: 26
After being drafted by the Raiders in the third round in 2013, Moore has played on three different teams in four seasons. He's an average linebacker who struggles in coverage. His best skills are his ability to take on blocks in the run game and make tackles. If the Cowboys are looking for a true middle linebacker to man the middle of their defense for a few weeks, Moore isn't a bad option if he can be had on a cheap, one-year deal.
Of the six positions of need that were listed, right tackle is probably the most concerning heading into the draft. With Doug Free's retirement, the Cowboys are left with 2015 third-round pick Chaz Green at right tackle. When he was filling in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, Green played well. His talent has always been undeniable.
But much like his college career, Green has struggled to stay healthy. In his two-year NFL career, Green has appeared in only four out of a possible 33 games. To make matters worse, Green needed back surgery at the end of the year which puts him in jeopardy for OTAs.
The Cowboys will want to add competition and depth behind Green, but it will likely cost them a premium pick to do so. It's hard to find playable tackles in free agency because the NFL is so desperate for offensive linemen.
Tackles who are available in free agency are typically available for one of two reasons; they are either hurt or bad. Two of the better tackles left in free agency are ones who missed significant time in 2016. Here are some of those options for Dallas:
Sebastian Vollmer—Age: 32
With hip and shoulder injuries, Vollmer missed the entire 2016 season as the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl without him. When healthy, Vollmer is one of the better right tackles in the league, but he's now missed 29 games over the past four seasons. His best shot left in the NFL is to get an offer to a training camp where he can prove that he's healthy and ready to play in 2017.
Ryan Clady—Age: 30
Entering his age-31 season, Ryan Clady is still a somewhat useful player in the NFL. But 2016 was one of his worst seasons in the NFL. Playing for the Jets, he never quite got the system after signing a two-year, $18 million contract with the Jets in 2016. He finished 33rd out of 40 for left tackles in the NFL1000.
Clady's best fit is in a zone-heavy scheme where he's not asked to drive defensive ends off the ball. If he's willing to take a cheap, one-year prove-it deal with Dallas, he could revitalize his career as a right tackle. He's got talent, but one has to wonder if the injuries have finally caught up to him.
Dallas' best option might be to wait and see what the draft offers them. If the Cowboys get wiped out of defensive players at pick 28, Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk or Alabama's Cam Robinson could be the best player left on the board.
Another option the Cowboys could exercise is to move La'el Collins from left guard to right tackle. That move would allow Dallas to insert Jonathan Cooper at left guard to replace him if Chaz Green can't stay heathly. The team has options, but it's not going to be as clear-cut as it's been in the past few seasons.