Not many believed the Cowboys would be able to keep their bruising and opportunistic defense whole in 2023, but they did exactly that while also finding a way to make it even better
FRISCO, Texas — They couldn't keep everyone in free agency, as is often the case, but who the Dallas Cowboys were able to re-sign in March was nothing short of magnificent.
Headlined by new deals on Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch, a defensive unit that was one of the best in the league (or the outright best) in several major categories is still mostly whole; but also with a stick of dynamite thrown in the mix for Dan Quinn.
Let's talk about it as we dissect the team's current depth chart leading into the 2023 NFL Draft.
- EDGE — DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong
- EDGE — Micah Parsons, Sam Williams, Dante Fowler
- DT — Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Bohanna
- DT — Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore, Chauncey Golston
- LB — Leighton Vander Esch, Damone Clark
- RCB — Trevon Diggs, Nahshon Wright, C.J. Goodwin
- LCB — Stephon Gilmore, Israel Mukuamu
- NCB/Slot — Jourdan Lewis, DaRon Bland
- FLEX — Jayron Kearse, Markquese Bell
- SS — Donovan Wilson
- FS — Malik Hooker, Tyler Coyle
The aforementioned explosive addition is former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro cornerback, namely Stephon Gilmore, who arrives in Dallas via a cost-effective trade with the Indianapolis Colts.
Gilmore will be the definitive complement for Diggs with Lewis returning from injury to help Bland put the clamps on opposing slot receivers — four players who are also highly effective at generating takeaways — leaving only depth as the question mark at the position.
That's where Israel Mukuamu comes into play, having acquitted himself very well in his move from safety to CB2 in the playoffs following the loss of Anthony Brown and a round of tryouts opposite Diggs that included Nahshon Wright and Kelvin Joseph.
It'll be interesting to see the coming battle between Lewis and Bland, because it's a win-win for the Cowboys in that role regardless of who gets the nod as starter for 2023.
There will also be a seat for C.J. Goodwin on the depth chart, seeing as he's the incumbent special teams ace returning on a new deal.
Pulling forward to take a look at the defensive front, the Cowboys remain in fantastic air with Parsons (who is basically an EDGE rusher now, per his 2022 splits) and DeMarcus Lawrence, with Dorance Armstrong coming off of a breakout season and Dante Fowler surging in his reunion with Quinn.
And then there's Sam Williams, a monster in the making, set to potentially take a major step forward over his impressive rookie season.
Time will tell if Takk McKinley can be what he once was for Quinn, and he'll get another shot at it in 2023; and former offensive lineman Isaac Alarcon is making a bid to get snaps on the interior of the defensive line going forward.
An overall stellar group of pass rush and run-stopping talent bookends a defensive line that [still] features Johnathan Hankins along with Quinton Bohanna, Neville Gallimore and Chauncey Golston — the needle on Golston pointing due north after a strong second half of the 2022 campaign.
Patrolling the second level of the defensive front seven is Leighton Vander Esch, who is back to Pro Bowl form and Damone Clark, a fifth-round pick who might end up being the biggest steal of the 2022 NFL Draft when it's all said-and-done.
Behind those two remains a list of question marks though, as Jabril Cox works to become the impact LB the Cowboys believe he can eventually be, and the loss of Luke Gifford to free agency (Titans) means Cox and those behind him on the depth chart — Malik Jefferson, Devante Bond and Devin Harper — need to fight desperately to elevate themselves from the practice squad onto the active roster.
What continues to bode well for the Cowboys is in how stout their defensive front and group of cornerbacks are atop the depth chart and, at some positions, all the way to the bottom of it, and that makes it easy for the safety unit to provide protection at the third and final level.
Expect Jayron Kearse to remain a flex player who bounces between safety and linebacker with Markquese Bell being formed in the same role, as Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson continue to do what they do best: roam and destroy, respectively.
But if Mukuamu is indeed moved to cornerback after a solid showing, that will put the onus on Juanyeh Thomas and Tyler Coyle to battle in camp for the available seat at safety, and that's not to rule out the possibility of the Cowboys selecting another one in this year's draft.
All in all, Quinn's defense in Dallas is set to dominate yet again in 2023.
Hold onto your butts.