The Dallas Cowboys have a record number of free agents on defense this year, and can’t afford to sign them all. What will their defense look like in 2020?
Going into the 2019 season, I think most Dallas Cowboys watchers were expecting America’s Team to field a very good defensive team. It made sense. Dallas had fielded its best defensive unit in years in 2018.
That year, Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence had his second straight year of double-digit sacks, cornerback Byron Jones had a breakout year, making his first Pro Bowl.
Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both had breakout performances as well, with the former making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. People were talking about the Cowboys possibly having the best linebacker corps in the NFL.
Then, before the 2019 season began, the Cowboys traded for Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn and drafted defensive tackle Trysten Hill in the second round of the draft, a player they thought could be excellent.
Things were looking very good, indeed. Surely the defense would be even better. A top-five defense sounded possible, likely even.
There was one concern, but it seemed minor at the time: The Cowboys run defense. The Los Angeles Rams had gashed Dallas for 273 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the divisional round of the playoffs.
That was a concern, but surely it could be dealt with. The team drafted Hill and signed a few free-agent defensive tackles. That should do it, was the common consensus.
But it didn’t work out.
Though their defense wasn’t terrible in 2019, it wasn’t nearly top five. In fact, they weren’t top 10 either. Pro Football Reference ranked them eleventh. The defensive unit was often abysmal against the run.
A lot of this can be attributed to injuries. The Cowboys lost both defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford and starting linebacker star Vander Esch for most of the season.
However, several key players underperformed, notably DeMarcus Lawrence, recording only five sacks. Neither safety Xavier Woods nor cornerback Chidobe Awuzie played up to expectations either. Rookie Hill, meanwhile, was invisible.
So, what kind of defense can fans expect to see in 2020? Will they see something like the 2018 Cowboys defense, a top 10 unit? Could the head office even improve on that? Or are viewers more likely to see a repeat of the 2019 team and its often mediocre performance?