After several years of trying to get by on marginal talent, it appears that the Dallas Cowboys are finally taking the interior defensive line seriously.
Things definitely appear to be changing within the organizational structure of the Dallas Cowboys. If moving on from their head coach was not enough of a signal, the 2020 free agency period would act as a foghorn.
For the past decade or so, the Dallas Cowboys have treated the middle of their defense as an afterthought. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a piece naming the 2010-19 “All-Decade” team. Choosing the players for the interior defensive line and safety positions turned out to be borderline embarrassing.
One defensive tackle that was chosen played just three seasons. The other has never been named to a Pro-Bowl. The safety situation was not any better. One player ping-ponged between cornerback and safety, while the other, again, was never named to a Pro-Bowl.
These were the best of the best that the Dallas Cowboys had to offer at positions that are key to overall success. It is often said in many different sports, that the middle of your defense is paramount.
In baseball, teams with elite shortstops and center fielders often dominate defensively. The greatest dynasty in the history of the NBA was led by the greatest defensive center of all-time. It translates to football as well. Let’s take a look at the three best defenses over the last 40 years.
The 1985 Chicago Bears featured Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael along the interior defensive line with Mike Singletary at middle linebacker and Dave Duerson at safety. Two Hall of Fame inductees and two other guys who made multiple Pro-Bowl’s and/or All-Pro teams.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens had three-time Pro-Bowler Sam Adams at defensive tackle with one of the best linebackers in the history of the game in Ray Lewis manning the middle and Rod Woodson, another Hall of Fame player at safety.
Lastly, the 2002 Tampa Buccaneers featured Hall of Famer Warren Sapp at defensive tackle. He could directly behind him at another Hall of Fame player in middle linebacker Derrick Brooks and nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch.
The Dallas Cowboys saw the most recent version of a young, inexpensive player with upside in Maliek Collins immediately move on to the Las Vegas Raiders via free agency. No matter, they just replaced him with six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.
Is McCoy older and heading towards the latter part of his career? Yep. He also doesn’t have “upside” or “potential.” He just flat out produces. McCoy just finished his eighth consecutive season with five or more sacks. Collins has just one of those.
Poe and McCoy instantly upgrade what has been an underwhelming interior defensive line but Dallas is not solely focusing on just this position. The Cowboys also recently let Jeff Heath also move on to Sin City and replaced him on the roster with former Packers and Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix, heading into his seventh season, is better than average. He’s probably not going to make any Pro Bowl’s but he’s a huge upgrade over Heath. Clinton-Dix has 16 career interceptions with three or more in three of the last four years. Heath has just eight total while playing one more season and has just one season with three or more picks.
The Dallas Cowboys will likely draft another safety to rotate in with Clinton-Dix and incumbent starter Xavier Woods. If they don’t finalize a deal with Poe, Damon Harrison and Ndamukong Suh are also on the radar.
Regardless, they are aware that these positions require more attention and talent than past players have provided. This can only translate well on the field, which should help the defense catch up to the offense in Big D.