MOBILE, Ala. – The Cowboys certainly tried, but they didn't manage to fix their lackluster pass rush in 2015.
As much as discussion has centered on the quarterback position this offseason, just as large was the focus on sacks at this time last year. The Cowboys finished the 2014 season with a mere 28 sacks, and their inability to put pressure on Aaron Rodgers contributed to their 26-21 playoff loss to Green Bay.
It's fair to say the Cowboys were resolved to fix that in 2015. They made headlines by adding a controversial sack artist in Greg Hardy, and they did it again when they drafted Randy Gregory. That duo, when combined with existing players like Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence and Jeremy Mincey, looked like a force to be reckoned with.
"I think that I thought that we had really addressed it," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
Fast-forward a year, though, and not much appears to be different. Lawrence enjoyed a breakout second half to his second season, as he finished the year with eight sacks. Hardy showed flashes of his Pro Bowl credentials with six sacks.
"I was hopeful that the combination of the group we put together, Crawford, Hardy -- certainly Lawrence did do well for us," Jones said. "I thought all of that would give us more of what Rod was trying to accomplish there. Close, but close doesn't count."
The end result was just 31 sacks on the season – three more than 2014 and good enough for the No. 25 spot in the NFL. As much potential as Hardy, Crawford and Lawrence showed, there wasn't as much consistency – while pieces like Gregory and Mincey contributed no sacks on the season.
"The injury situation with Gregory limited him early," Jones said. "I do think a combination of a rookie season as well as dealing with injury, that in itself is a learning curve and part of becoming a pro is learning how to handle rehab and not play and all of that. So I think we got a learning experience out of it but would like to have more of him."
Now the Cowboys face the start of another offseason with a similar problem. Lawrence, Gregory and Crawford are a solid trio to build around, but the foursome of Hardy, Mincey, Nick Hayden and Jack Crawford are set to enter free agency – giving the front office plenty of work to do.
It figures to be a focus going forward this offseason, and for good reason. Three of the four participants in last weekend's conference championship games finished in the NFL's top 10 in sacks. Denver and Carolina, who will face off next week in Super Bowl 50, are No. 1 and No. 6, respectively.
It remains to be seen how the Cowboys will add to their current rotation – they aren't ready to discuss free agency a full six weeks before the start of the league year. But it looks likely to be a priority once again.
"The first thing I totally agree with is you've got to have pass rush," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "We had better pass rush, but we've got to get better. However we get it, however we go about acquiring the players that are going to give us that pass rush is always going to be at the top of our list in terms of need."