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Back & Forth: Not Done Addressing The D-Line?


FRISCO, Texas - About a month into free agency, yet still two weeks before the draft, this is time where NFL teams usually hit the pause button for a moment.

Of course, the door isn't closed to add veterans and the draft process is well underway with meetings, interviews and we've even seen some league-wide trades to move around in the draft.

But for the most part, the dust has settled for now, knowing it will pick up significantly on April 28, the start of the draft.

So let's look back at each position, with a free-agent recap, and look ahead to see if there's more left to do.

Today, we'll continue with the defensive line.

What Happened:

  • When the offseason began, DeMarcus Lawrence's future with the Cowboys looked uncertain because of a tight salary cap. But the veteran defensive end agreed to a new three-year contract that essentially cut his 2022 cap figure in half (down to $14 million) which gave the club more operating space in free agency.
  • The Cowboys planned to use some of that cap space to re-sign fellow starter Randy Gregory. A deal was close, but Gregory ultimately decided to sign with the Denver Broncos for five years and $70 million, creating a void for Dallas at right defensive end.
  • The Cowboys quickly adjusted, re-signing Dorance Armstrong to a two-year deal and signing veteran free agent Dante Fowler Jr. to a one-year deal to bolster the pass rush.
  • At defensive tackle, the Cowboys re-signed 14-game starter Carlos Watkins. Brent Urban, who made four starts in six appearances before a season-ending triceps injury, is still a free agent.

What's Next:

It bears watching how the Cowboys replace Gregory's production. He missed six games due to injuries and COVID protocols and didn't lead the team in sacks (6.0), but his 30 pressures in 11 games were impactful and he made game-altering plays at times. He forced three fumbles and also produced one of the season's most dynamic takeaways, tipping a pass to himself for an interception that led to a Cowboys touchdown against Washington.

Fowler, a six-year veteran with 35.0 career sacks, will be part of the rotation, and the Cowboys believe Armstrong can take a step forward after posting a career-high 5.0 sacks last season. All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons will likely continue getting intermittent snaps as an edge rusher, too.

The pass rush was much-improved last season thanks in large part to Parsons' team-high 13 sacks. The run defense also showed progress, jumping from 30th to 16th in the rankings after allowing the second-most yards in franchise history in 2020. But Dallas did allow at least 100 rushing yards in 13 of 18 games, including 169 yards to San Francisco in the first-round playoff loss, so it's an area that can still improve up front.

Feeling A Draft?

It's a safe guess that the Cowboys will address defensive line (tackle and/or end) with at least one of their nine picks. Why? The club has drafted at least one defensive end in nine of the last 10 drafts, at least one defensive tackle in six of the last 10.

Last year Dallas drafted three full-time defensive linemen last year (Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston and Quinton Bohanna) along with Parsons, who pitched in up front, too.

More prospects are in the draft this year because the pandemic led to an extra season of eligibility. It looks like a relatively deep edge rusher class with quite a few promising defensive tackles, too.

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