The Dallas Cowboys made finding a premier pass rusher a priority but are left with few options to pursue.
"“If I have a chance to bring one of these premiere pass rushers, one of these war daddies that takes two to block, if I have a chance to get a player like that – I would…it’s not a question of that,” Jones told ESPN Dallas 103.3’s J Dub City via the Dallas Morning News. “It’s a question of where is he? And who gives him up if he’s a veteran, or where is he in the draft, or where is he anywhere? So, yeah we do need pressure. We’re going to try to do something about it.”"
Some speculated this was a sign that the Cowboys were willing to make the necessary moves to find a defensive star in free agency. It only took a few hours into the start of the new league year to see Dallas would have to look elsewhere.
The most talented players available were quickly signed to big-money contracts. That included linebacker Nick Perry signing a 5-year deal worth $60 million with the Green Bay Packers and defensive-end Calais Campbell signing a 4-year deal worth $60 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Cowboys entered free agency with less than $9 million in cap space. That made it infeasible to pursue either of these targets. It’s likely the story would have been the same if Los Angeles Chargers’ linebacker Melvin Ingram and New York Giants’ defensive-end Jason Pierre-Paul had not received franchise tags from their respective teams the prior week.
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Fans shouldn’t feel too dismayed by this news. Perry is a one-hit wonder with plenty of question marks surrounding him. Campbell is on the wrong side of 30. The Giants just hope Pierre-Paul doesn’t blow off another finger (and he’ll end up costing a pretty penny). They would have improved the Cowboys’ pass rush, but their cost could far exceed their value.
That likely leaves the draft as the best option for the Cowboys to find long-term talent to improve the pass rush. Unfortunately the odds are against them that they’ll find a rookie who can become the team’s “war daddy” in 2017 with the 28th pick in the draft.
While the biggest story line for the Cowboys was potentially trading former starting quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys saw two key rotational defensive linemen get signed by other teams. Defensive end Jack Crawford was signed by the Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Terrell McClain was signed by the Washington Redskins.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli prefers to rotate his defensive linemen throughout each game to keep them fresh. The Cowboys will want to provide him with new players either through the draft and/or when players become less expensive in free agency.
Speaking of which, as of now the Cowboys can still pursue former defensive stars DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers, and Dwight Freeney. All three current free agents ranked among the top 33 edge rushers in 2016 despite their age, per Pro Football Focus. Dallas’ highest graded pass rusher was David Irving with a grade of 76.6, which was still less than the scores for Ware (77.1), Peppers (78.8) and Freeney (78.6). The Cowboys could likely sign one of them to a short-term deal to come in primarily on passing downs.
Regardless of what happens, fans should remind themselves that the Cowboys managed to be among the best teams in the NFC despite having an inadequate pass rush in 2016. For the second consecutive year, Dallas will be depending on an offense filled with All-Pros and one of the league’s most promising young quarterbacks in Dak Prescott to carry them.