Dallas Cowboys free agency primer: Inside the trenches

In the third of a five-part series highlighting the Dallas Cowboys and their pending free agency decisions, we look at the offensive and defensive lines.

Last week, we started a journey down the path of looking in the Dallas Cowboys free agency crystal ball. Focusing on the quarterback and skill positions, we determined the best route to go for this team and those key spots.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper loom as the two biggest decisions the Dallas Cowboys must make heading into the 2020 campaign. Thankfully, the Cowboys are armed with approximately $80 million in cap room, not to mention the franchise and transition tag.

For all intents and purposes, the Dallas Cowboys do not need to do much in the way of shopping for anything offensively. The offense led the league in total yards, possessed the second-best passing attack, the fifth-best ground game and finished sixth in scoring. This was all done with a first-year offensive coordinator and a conservative, stale head coach.

By replacing Jason Garrett with Mike McCarthy and assuming some sort of improvement from experience/growth in offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, it’s hard to see any major changes being necessary to the offense. That statement includes the offensive line.

Heading into 2020, the Dallas Cowboys have three free agent offensive linemen. Interior linemen Adam Redmond and Xavier Su’a-Filo, along with backup/swing tackle Cameron Fleming could all go elsewhere if they so desire next season.

In all honesty, Dallas does not need to bring back any of the three. The starting five are set. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are locked in at the tackle positions. Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Connor Williams have the interior handled.

Behind them are Connor McGovern, Joe Looney, Mitch Hyatt, and Brandon Knight. That depth may not be atop the league’s best but in this day and age, you can’t have a budding Pro-Bowler at every spot. Possessing a serviceable spot starter/fill-in-for-a-game option is plenty fine. All four are capable of that duty.

We also must take into account that coaching can oftentimes fill the void of any “lack of talent” that may be in play. No offense intended, but transitioning from first-year offensive line coach Marc Colombo to Joe Philbin, owner of 20+ years doing the same job in college and the pro ranks should assist in the maturation of the younger kids.

Along the defensive line, a change in coaching philosophy should also help. Dallas is finally replacing Rod Marinelli, incumbent since 2013 with Jim Tomsula. Tomsula, almost 20 years Marinelli’s junior, should bring fire and intensity that is much-needed.

Between Philbin and Tomsula, however, it’s the latter who is in need of an influx of talent. The Cowboys have seven free agents along the defensive line. Those still under contract, besides edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, leave a lot to be desired.

First and foremost, 2020 should be the end of the road for long-time lineman Tyrone Crawford. The Cowboys can either pay him $8 million next season or save $6.9 million and let him peddle his wares elsewhere. Given that we are discussing a 30+-year old, coming off hip surgery, the choice should be fairly simple.

The next easiest decision, free-agent wise, will be to offer interior lineman Antwaun Woods the minimum salary tender. This will ensure that the exclusive rights free agent comes back in 2020, a win for depth purposes.

Of the remaining free agents that were on the team last year, edge rusher Robert Quinn is the main priority. Spotrac estimates Quinn’s fair market value at almost $12 million per year. That number would represent an upgrade in pay from last season. Given that he posted 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2019, that number is hard to argue.

Can the Dallas Cowboys afford such a high price tag? That could be tough with Dak and Amari commanding most of that aforementioned cap space. Dallas could opt to get younger and cheaper by focusing on targets such as edge rushers Shaq Lawson (seven sacks in 2019, estimated fair market value of $7.8 million) or Emmanuel Ogbah (six sacks in 2019) who made just $1.65 million last season.

The Dallas Cowboys also need to address their porous interior defensive line. Besides retaining Woods on the cheap, the only other player on the roster to play inside is last year’s second-round selection Trysten Hill. Clearly, more help is necessary.

The likelihood of a return of defensive tackle Maliek Collins is low, mostly due to the salary he will command on the open market. A change in the defensive philosophy, with new coordinator Mike Nolan on board, may also force Collins to a new destination.

To once again look at (slightly) cheaper, still intriguing replacement ideas, the Cowboys may start with either 6-4, 330-lb A’Shawn Robinson, 6-2, 345-lb Danny Shelton or both. Nolan’s scheme generally calls for bigger men manning the tackle spots. Both Robinson and Shelton outweigh Collins by 25+ pounds. It is entirely possible that Dallas could get both for the same money Collins will make next year. That would be a major win in free agency.

Unfortunately, the 2020 free-agent market for defensive linemen is tough to navigate. There are some seriously high-priced options that Dallas cannot afford. The names mentioned above represent the subset of good talent that could come at a decent price.

Next: The top 10 Dallas Cowboys to never win a Super Bowl

Regardless, the defensive line is in need of an upgrade for next season. It is very likely that either the first or second-round selection of this year’s draft plays this position. Still, there will be a need for some augmentation via free agency.