Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agency primer: Linebacker

In the second-to-last installment of my free agency primer series, we will look at the linebacker position to see how the Dallas Cowboys might attack free agency.

Over the last month, I have dissected each position for the Dallas Cowboys and the chances they might address depth or improvement on their roster via free agency. Today, we are going to look at the linebacker position as there are a few questions surrounding this group entering 2019.

Last season, two major bets that the Dallas Cowboys front office made paid off, both of which involved the linebacker position. For many years, this was one of the weakest units on the team. Recent history dictated that whenever linebacker Sean Lee made his yearly trip to the sideline due to injury, the rest of the linebacking corps were exposed.

2018 was a vastly different story, however. Thanks to the first fully healthy year for Jaylon Smith and rookie sensation Leighton Vander Esch, this group soared. Entering 2019, there are a couple of decisions that will need to be made as depth at this position is still a little dicey.

The depth chart

Leighton Vander Esch signed through 2022
Kyle Queiro signed through 2020
Jaylon Smith signed through 2019
Joe Thomas signed through 2019
Sean Lee signed through 2019
Chris Covington signed through 2021

Notable free agent linebackers

Clay Matthews
Derrick Morgan
K.J. Wright
Thomas Davis
Jadeveon Clowney
Vincent Rey
Anthony Barr
Shaquil Barrett
Shane Ray
Pernell McPhee
Connor Barwin
Preston Smith
Jeremiah Attaochu
Najee Goode
Mychal Kendricks
Eli Harold
C.J. Mosley
Stephone Anthony
Deone Bucannon
Denzel Perryman
Kevin Minter
Jordan Hicks
Kwon Alexander
Jake Ryan

What to do with the General?

Sean Lee is due $7M in 2019 and has just over $10M as a cap figure. He has stated he definitely wants to play football this upcoming season.

The Dallas Cowboys can let him do that somewhere else, save $4M and have just over $3M as dead money if they choose. Lee has missed 14 games over the past two seasons and should not be play for this team earning $7M. That’s just being real.

If Lee agrees to a significant pay cut, his presence, for however long that might be, would be nice as Joe Thomas represents the only signed veteran left on the roster.

Regardless, the Cowboys are in the market for at least one, if not two linebackers.

To draft or not to draft, that is the question…

Perusing the free agent list, most all of the options are outside linebackers, best suited for rushing the passer. Anthony Barr would be a major coup but I believe he’ll either get big money to play elsewhere or re-sign with Minnesota. The same goes for Clowney in Houston.

Given all that the Dallas Cowboys have to do with their available cap space, this position would be best be served with a couple of under-the-radar, bargain type guys. Relative to that train of thought, two names make the most fiscal and football sense.

The first is Preston Smith. At just 26 years of age, he fits the mold this team is trying to build by staying young while providing better than average play. Smith has not missed a game in three straight years. Each of those three seasons, he has had at least four sacks, played both down lineman and linebacker, registered 40 or more tackles and at least one interception.

His production is just good enough to warrant looking at without being so much that it might break the bank. It’s highly a possible a three year deal, worth $10-12M would be enough to steal him away from the rival Washington Redskins.

On the interior, I have always thought that Deone Bucannon would be a major help to this team, strictly for his versatility. Even though he is undersized, his speed and experience all over the field would be a great compliment to Vander Esch and Smith.

Even though his numbers have dropped off as of late, he can still play. After getting his fifth year option picked up by the Cardinals in 2018, he is likely going to see a major pay cut in 2019. If the Dallas Cowboys offered him a one year, prove it type of deal with some incentives in the contract, it may possibly do the trick, allowing him to show he still has something left in the tank.

Beyond these options, the Cowboys may have to use a draft pick as they will need at least one more body heading into camp.