(Editor's Note: With the draft now behind us, the Cowboys seemingly have a full roster for the offseason and training camp. There will likely be changes here and there but this group will mostly be intact when the real competition begins. So over the next two weeks, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will break down some of the pressing position battles to keep an eye on. Today, we continue with the defensive line)
What's the Issue:
There's no denying the Cowboys have added new faces to their defensive line – the question now is, how good are they?
It's been an offseason of upheaval for the Cowboys' pass rush after a lackluster effort in 2015. Perhaps the unit's most intriguing talent, Randy Gregory, was suspended four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Two months later, the team's most proven sack artist, DeMarcus Lawrence, followed suit with a two-month suspension of his own.
Combine those losses with the with the fact that the Cowboys moved on from three of their most experienced defensive linemen – Jeremy Mincey, Greg Hardy and Nick Hayden – during free agency, and there's not much left in the way of proven production to start this season.
The defensive line hasn't gone unaddressed, though. The Cowboys signed four-year veteran Cedric Thornton to a four-year, $17 million contract in March. They followed that up with the unconventional decision to extend a three-year, $8.2 million offer to unproven pass rusher Benson Mayowa, formerly with the Oakland Raiders. The front office also spent two premium draft picks on the pass rush. Massive Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins was drafted No. 67 overall, and Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper was taken with the 101st overall pick.
Those additions will join the likes of Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain in the rotation. There's a fair amount of talent, to be sure. But the goal for the Cowboys will be trying to make the most of a group of pass rushers that are largely unproven on the NFL level.
Don't Forget About:
Rob Phillips: Jack Crawford didn't re-sign with the Cowboys until April, reaching a one-year deal to stay in Dallas for a third season. It didn't make big headlines, but it was an underrated roster move that kept an important rotation player on the defensive line. Crawford had four sacks playing only 46 percent of last season's defensive snaps, and his playing time figures to increase in the first month of the 2016 season during the four-game NFL suspension for Randy Gregory and, reportedly, possibly DeMarcus Lawrence. Crawford can play all four positions on the defensive line. He's a classic Rod Marinelli rotation guy.
Nick Eatman:I think Cedric Thornton has a chance to be one of the defensive line leaders, regardless of position. He finds himself in a rather unique spot, but a similar one to what Jeremy Mincey walked into two years ago. Thornton might be new to the team, but considering the players surrounding him, he could step right into a leadership role. When practices start this offseason, Thornton has played just four years, but his 61 games played is by far the most of any other Cowboys player on the defensive line. Tyrone Crawford and Terrell McClain have each played 47 games, tying for second. So Thornton has been through the trenches much more than any other player. And being surrounded by a lot of younger players should allow him to lead by example and experience. I think he plays alongside Tyrone Crawford in the middle and becomes a disruptive force on the defensive line right from the start.
David Helman:The concerns at defensive end are totally understandable. The Cowboys are short on playmakers on the outside, and the playmakers they do have will be suspended to start the season. But all of a sudden, this defensive tackle rotation looks pretty promising. Tyrone Crawford is recovering from shoulder surgery, which should allow him to be more effective in 2016. Cedric Thornton is a 45-game starter and is by far the best one-technique tackle Rod Marinelli has had during his time in Dallas. On top of that, the Cowboys have a premium rookie talent inside with Maliek Collins, and Terrell McClain has proven his effectiveness – when he's healthy. David Irving and Jack Crawford has also proven capable of kicking inside. Perhaps a strong push from the inside can help offset the problems on the outside.