Dallas Cowboys: 3 items on Dan Quinn’s defensive to-do list

Dallas Cowboys defense (Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Cowboys defense (Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Dallas Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator has some work to do early

The Dallas Cowboys began their offseason shakeup last Friday, parting ways with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after one season in Big D. Three days later, and the Cowboys agreed to hire his replacement in former Atlanta Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn.

While Quinn’s time in Atlanta led to a near .500 record (46-44) over the span of a little more than five seasons with the Falcons, his two years spent as a defensive coordinator in the NFL is his biggest selling point. As the DC of the Seattle Seahawks, Quinn’s defense helped to lead Seattle to Super Bowl appearances both seasons.

So there’s hope Quinn will be able to work that same kind of magic in Dallas. But the former head coach has some early decisions to make this offseason to help the Cowboys’ defense bounce back after posting one of it’s worst performances in franchise history under Nolan. Here are three items we believe are at the top of Quinn’s to-do list in the coming months.

Find a stabilizing force at defensive tackle

The Cowboys swung and missed big on their two top free agent signings at defensive tackle last year. Gerald McCoy would suffer a quad injury before the start of the regular season that resulted in him being released. Dontari Poe would also be released, but after seven games and due to poor play.

2019 second-round defensive tackle Trysten Hill seemed to take some strides in his second year prior to suffering a season-ending ACL injury. But Quinn will need to find a more stabilizing force in the middle of his defensive line if he’s going to improve on the team’s run defense that allowed 158.8 rushing yards per game, which ranked 31st in the NFL.

Find a safety to pair with Donovan Wilson

With Xavier Woods scheduled to hit free agency in March, Quinn and the Cowboys will need to find a new starter to pair with 2020 breakout star Donovan Wilson at safety this offseason. Dallas attempted to do so via free agency last year, signing former first-rounder and Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-DIx.

Unfortunately, Clinton-DIx couldn’t make it past final cuts in Dallas and ultimately led to the team starting Wilson five games into the regular season. Perhaps Quinn’s influence will finally nudge the Cowboys into spending a high-draft selection on a safety.

Must Read. How Dan Quinn and the Cowboys front office can fix the defense. light

Decide the future of Jaylon Smith

Despite signing a five-year, $64 million extension in 2019, Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith‘s future in Dallas could be in jeopardy. Smith’s declining play over the past two seasons is a serious concern.

And it’s one that Quinn will likely be tasked with either improving or potentially moving on from. While Smith’s contract may force the Cowboys to keep him on the roster in 2021, that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed a starting role or even significant playing time.

Quinn must find a way to reestablish the promise this talented positional group showed just a couple seasons ago. That could mean finding replacements for Smith and others.