If there is any one thing that can be said about the Dallas Cowboys activity during the offseason, it would be this:
The defensive line has been a point of emphasis.
For better or worse, the Cowboys have made the line a focal point during the first two weeks of free agency. Saying goodbye to lifetime Cowboys such as Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware was difficult, painful but financially necessary. As with most goodbye’s however, there was a hello as well. Just a few days ago, former Bear defensive tackle Henry Melton agreed to terms with Dallas. Melton was a huge signing for the Cowboys, mostly because he was the best available player out there. It does not hurt that he is young and hungry to prove that he can be a Pro-Bowl player again, especially when coupled with the tutelage of his former line coach, now defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
But what are we to make of these changes to the roster? Should we be happy as fans? Are we better? Is there more to come?
Let’s address some of these questions to get an accurate view of what we’re working with.
On August 31, 2013, as final cuts to the roster were being made, nine lineman were kept on the final 53 man team (not including Tyrone Crawford and Jay Ratliff who both never played a down in 2013). As the Cowboys prepared for their week one matchup with the New York Giants, one of those nine, Ben Bass was lost for the year with a shoulder injury. So the scramble began.
An unprecedented, SEVENTEEN different lineman (counting Kyle Wilber who was moved to LB when injuries got ridiculous there) suited up and played at least one game last year. George Selvie, Nick Hayden and Kyle Wilber played all 16 games. Hatcher missed only one game. That injury riddled, unproductive Ware guy (seeping with sarcasm) missed two. Then comes the guys most people never even knew existed until last season.
Drake Nevis played in eleven games. Jarius Wynn played in ten. Everette Brown, Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford saw action in seven games. Corvey Irvin played in six, while David Carter (3), Landon Cohen, Frank Kearse and Jason Vega (2) all got a paycheck from the Cowboys too. Even Marvin Austin and the truly unproductive, overpaid Anthony Spencer got one game in.
Let us all take a moment and sacrifice something to the Football Gods to make sure something like this never happens again.
Hopefully, Dallas will not need seventeen different guys again. Usually, only between seven and nine guys make the game day 46-man cut (depending on opponent and scheme) on the defensive line. Currently, the roster has ten players under contract on the line. Another three who were with the team last season and are unsigned free agents at the time of this article (Edgar Jones, Anthony Spencer and Jarius Wynn). Separated in groups of tackle or end and ranked top to bottom, this is what we’re working with so far…
Henry Melton DT
Nick Hayden DT
Ben Bass DT
Terrell McClain DT
Frank Kearse DT
George Selvie DE
Jeremy Mincey DE
Tyrone Crawford DE
Caesar Rayford DE
Tristan Okpalaugo DE
I feel like the signings of Melton and McClain, along with the return of Ben Bass all but guarantee those of you hoping to see Pitt’s Aaron Donald walk up to shake Commissioner Goodell’s hand on May 8th with a Cowboys hat on can forget that dream. Not because it wouldn’t be really nice to have a young beast next to Melton, or insurance in case he really isn’t as good as advertised but because of the massively gaping hole at defensive end.
Mincey is actually the leader in the career sack clubhouse right now with 20… or one half of a sack better than what DeMarcus Ware had for a season in 2011. Next up is George Selvie, with ten… seven of which came last year. The other three guys have as many career sacks in the NFL as you and I do. So while Donald would be great, if the Cowboys have don’t have any bullets left in their free agency pistol, the draft will need to address this huge need. If they do still intend to do some shopping prior to the draft, there are a few intriguing names out there. Guys like Will Smith (67.5 career sacks) and Shaun Phillips (79.5 career sacks) would be perfect veteran fits as edge rushers who should come a lot cheaper than Jared Allen or less of a risk than Spencer is.
It is clear this unit is in need of at least one more guy to go after the quarterback. Whether it’s through the draft or in free agency, the defensive line is still missing a piece or two but it is certainly looking better now that Melton’s in the mix. We aren’t there yet, but finally, things look to be going in the right direction.