Editor's Note: The Cowboys currently have 20 players slated to enter free agency when the league year begins in March. Some of those players are key contributors, while others are role players. In this series, Bryan Broaddus will take a look at all 20 free agents, assessing how they performed in 2015 and how they might fit into the Cowboys' future.
IRVING, Texas – There's no better place to start a free agency preview than the Cowboys' defensive line. Dallas has four total defensive linemen set to hit the market, including two starters – one of them being the unit's only Pro Bowler.
To start this series off, we'll take a look at those four names, starting with the biggest one – a guy whose future will be heavily-scrutinized, whether it's with the Cowboys or not.
Let's get started:
2015 Performance:The coaches tried to put Hardy in position to get sacks by moving him around, but he just couldn't be as disruptive as he was in Carolina. He played hard, but his technique was up and down -- which led to games where he was not nearly the factor that he should have been.
2016: Forecast:This will be a difficult decision, because we do not know what happened behind the scenes. There are rumors that led you to believe that the front office and coaches might have had enough and are interested in moving on. If Hardy would have had double digit sacks, then maybe it's easier to tolerate some distraction, but this situation has a feel of allowing him to walk.
2015 Performance:The coaches have a great deal of respect for Hayden, despite what fans feel. There are things that he does during the game that don't show up unless you watch him play down after down. He does hold blocks and will make an occasional down the line tackle. When he was rotated, he was a much better player.* 2016: Forecast:*I have always viewed him as a bridge player, but they have yet to find someone to replace him. In studying players for this 2016 NFL Draft, there are several one-techniques that could make his time as a starter come to an end. I could see a situation where they draft his replacement but sign him for depth.
2015 Performance:Crawford is, simply put, one of the hardest-working defensive linemen on this squad. He played several spots during the season and was consistent in both his efforts and results. He was outstanding in his ability to finish plays when put in those situations. He managed four sacks on the year, and those numbers were more due his desire than athletic ability or technique.* 2016: Forecast:*You need to have guys like Crawford in the rotation if this defense is going to have success. The fact that he played all over helps his chances to return, but his best position is as that under tackle and not as a nose. Built more to get up the field than hold blocks.
2015 Performance:Mincey was really a man without a position once Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory were added. I thought he might have played more as a backup to DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side, but Lawrence was playing too well to come off the field. They used him some at the nose and under-tackle with mixed results. Never got into the flow that he was able to in 2014.
2016: Forecast:Like Nick Hayden, I thought he was a bridge player to get Randy Gregory ready to play in the future. He still might be that player if the club decides to move on from Hardy. Mincey is a much better player when he can get consistent snaps – which he did not get in 2015. Him returning might also hinge on what this front office does in the draft with guys like Joey Bosa and Shaq Lawson as potential additions.