FRISCO, Texas – The month of February is always the transition period from one season to the next. The 2019 season is in the rearview mirror, especially with a brand-new coaching staff in place.
The next step for the team is player personnel, which mostly takes place in March with the start of free agency. The first day of the new league year is March 18, although the Cowboys will have several other decisions to make before then, thanks to 25 unrestricted free agents.
Before we get too far down the road, let's take an overview at each position, finding out what they've got, what they need and some big decisions to make.
Today, we'll break down the defensive end position.
Coach In Charge: Jim Tomsula
The Cowboys have a handful of assistants with head-coaching experience and one of them will oversee the defensive line. Tomsula has been in the NFL for over 13 years, including a one-year stint as interim coach of the 49ers. When asked about some of his goals and philosophies, Tomsula talked less about Xs and Os and more about the approach, both physically and mentally.
"It's all about the team. Getting the group together. If you want to play as an individual, tennis is a good sport. Golf, swimming, wrestling – I used to wrestle. Those are great sports for individuals. But football is the greatest sport there is for a team and to depend on each other. It's team first. You have a small window in your life as a pro athlete. Maybe 10-12 years hopefully. But don't waste a minute of it. You're blessed to have the ability. It's not a right, it's a privilege. I've always believed that. And then, the last thing is toughness. Football isn't for everyone. Some people aren't mentally tough to play it and some people aren't physically tough to play it. Either way, you have to built to play it. You have to have that."
Biggest Question: Quinn's Status?
When the Cowboys traded a late-round pick to acquire Robert Quinn for just one season, few could've predicted that he'd be considered one of the biggest question marks heading into the 2020 free-agent period. But that's where we are with Quinn, who was easily the Cowboys' best pass rusher last year, leading the team in sacks with 11.5. And that was despite missing two games due to suspension to begin the year. Quinn showed the skills that has made him a two-time Pro Bowler with the Rams and also proved is value in a 4-3 scheme. With the attention DeMarcus Lawrence gets on one side of the line, a pass rusher off the edge such as Quinn is essential to any defense, especially if the Cowboys are losing depth at cornerback. The Cowboys likely want to keep Quinn, but can they afford him and are they willing to get into a possible bidding war for a pass rusher who turns 30 in May.
What They Have: A Pro Bowl DE
There are plenty of questions up and down the entire defense, especially on the defensive line. But the Cowboys at least have DeMarcus Lawrence in the fold. He might have had a down season for his standards, and especially considering the contract that paid him north of $21 million per season, but he's still an asset to have on the line. Lawrence was limited to five sacks last year. Some of that was the extra attention he received in terms of blocking and some of it was due to injuries. Either way, Lawrence didn't have the same production and that's why he wasn't voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in three years.
But perhaps his new coach can help turn things around. Tomsula said his first conversation with D-Law was very positive.
"That guy was impressive. We didn't talk a lot about football," Tomsula said. "It was more family. But I certainly know him and know he's a good football player."
Immediate Need: Depth
Like all positions, the Cowboys have to figure out several aspects of the defensive line because of free agency. Guys like Maliek Collins and Robert Quinn are both unrestricted. That's also the status for Michael Bennett and Kerry Hyder. Antwaun Woods is an exclusive-rights free agency so he should be back. Tyrone Crawford missed most of last year with a hip injury and he is expected back although maybe not at a $9.1 million cap charge. Still, the Cowboys have to sort out these things because there just aren't many players on the roster that are solidified at that position. Heading into March, the experienced players under contract on the D-line are Lawrence, Joe Jackson, Dorance Armstrong, Crawford and Trysten Hill.
Overall, the Cowboys have seven free agents on the defensive line this year with Collins, Quinn, Bennett, Hyder, Christian Covington and then Daniel Ross (restricted) and Woods (exclusive rights).