Cowboys' Free-Agent Signings Who Will Make Biggest Impact Next Season

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IJune 14, 2021

Cowboys' Free-Agent Signings Who Will Make Biggest Impact Next Season

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Most of the money the Dallas Cowboys have spent this offseason has gone to one player: Dak Prescott. The team inked its franchise quarterback to a four-year deal worth $160 million, which was clearly going to be its biggest move ahead of the 2021 season.

    Still, Dallas had other holes on its roster to fill. And while the 2021 NFL draft provided an opportunity for it to address some needs and add players who could be building blocks for the future, it also added some affordable free agents who may make immediate contributions.

    Despite not having a ton of financial flexibility, the Cowboys were successful in doing that, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. They may not have been the splashiest signings, but they were acquisitions that could end up benefiting the team in the short term.

    Here's a look at three free-agent additions who should make an impact for Dallas in 2021.

Keanu Neal, LB

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    Neal had trouble staying on the field in 2018 and 2019, playing only four games in total. But in 2020, he bounced back and recorded 100 tackles (the third time he's reached that mark in five NFL seasons), one interception, one sack, one fumble recovery and two pass deflections in 15 games for the Atlanta Falcons.

    The 25-year-old is also no longer listed as a safety and will be shifting to linebacker and looking to provide depth at a position group that Dallas needed to improve this offseason.

    "In my heart, I have been a linebacker for a while," Neal said, per ESPN's Todd Archer. "As time went on, I moved to safety. I still have an understanding of what everything entails with playing linebacker."

    It should also help that Neal will be reunited with new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was the Falcons head coach from 2015-20. Neal played 49 games and made 48 starts for Atlanta over his five seasons there.

    Neal's versatility should be a valuable asset for Dallas' defense, as he has the ability to move around the field and impact games in a multitude of ways.

Damontae Kazee, S

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Neal isn't the only former Falcons defensive player the Cowboys signed this offseason. They also brought in Kazee, who spent his first four NFL seasons with Atlanta from 2017-20. So he'll also be familiar with Quinn's defensive scheme and should have a smooth transition to his new team.

    Kazee played in all 16 games in each of his first three NFL seasons but was limited to four in 2020 after suffering an Achilles tear in Week 4. The 28-year-old has already been on the field for Dallas during OTAs, and it appears he's excited to be reunited with Quinn.

    "I know he's a player coach. And I know he looks for dogs," Kazee said, per David Helman of the Cowboys' official site. "He wants people running to the ball every play, everything. And that's one reason why I came here, you knowโ€”a coach that I can fight for like that, I'm going to give him my all."

    If Kazee can get back to being the player he was before that injury, he should provide a huge boost to Dallas' secondary.ย In 2018, Kazee had seven interceptions, which was tied for the most in the NFL that year.

    At the beginning of the season, Kazee is likely to get plenty of opportunities. As long as he stays healthy and produces at a high level, he should continue to have a big role. And there's a good chance of that happening.

Tarell Basham, DE

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Basham isn't going to have a starting role on the Cowboys defense, but the 27-year-old defensive end has the potential to boost the pass rush and provide depth for the unit. He played in 16 games each of the past two seasons with the New York Jets, and he's proved to be a solid player who should factor into the rotation on the defensive front.

    Last season, Dallas was tied for 20th in the NFL with 31 sacks, so it needed to bring in some additional players to help the pass rush. Basham recorded a career-high 3.5 sacks last year, so it made sense that he could be a fit for the Cowboys.

    So far, Basham has been impressed with the environment since joining Dallas and participating in OTAs.

    "We all expect to win in this building. And you can feel that. It's the difference," Basham said, per Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.

    While Basham isn't likely to become one of the NFL's sack leaders, he should make a positive impact on the Cowboys defense.