I have been reading a lot about concerns with this defense, but no real focus on the linebacking corps. If all are healthy, obviously a good group. But we all know that won't be the case. Sean Lee, other than last year, hasn't played a full season in quite some time and has missed significant playing time. LVE is coming back from a serious injury. Despite the optimistic outlook for his recovery, there is a big risk he will not play a full season and will miss playing time. In general, there is always injury risk in this game. But with only a few below par backups, and not to mention a 2019 performance where we saw five winning teams run all over them, why isn't there greater attention to this group? – MARK KRONICK / WESTON, CT
Nick: I was agreeing with most of what you wrote in your question, except for the part about "below par backups." I don't agree with that statement because if they're backups, they aren't really below par. To have Joe Thomas, Justin March and Luke Gifford as your backups isn't that bad of a setup in my mind. And considering they are backing up a group that have all made the Pro Bowl at some point in their careers, I think it's a pretty good group. Yes, there are injury concerns but when you're paying these big contracts to Zeke, Tyron, Zack, Amari, D-Law, Jaylon and at some point, Dak, you can't just have every position in the best shape possible. All that being considered, I think linebacker is in good shape. Yes, they could've added a linebacker in the draft, but it didn't work out. But watch out for Francis Bernard – a rookie from Utah. He might turn some heads.
Jonny: This is a legitimate concern and a valid question. The Cowboys have some very big positives they can hide behind: If Lee, Smith, and Vander Esch are all healthy while playing under a new head coach and defensive coordinator who have both fielded excellent defenses, then they have a really great immediate potential. But you're absolutely right, a statistician would probably look at the facts and suggest the best case scenario with this group isn't particularly likely. Joe Thomas is a decent enough option to fill in for a few games, but beyond that we don't really know. The variance of production from the linebacking corps this year is pretty high
Let's say Dak starts the year on the franchise tag and either sustains a serious injury or totally bombs. What do you think will happen the next year? Who will have the leverage? – ADRIAN DURAN / KYLE, TX
Nick: Well, I think the Cowboys would certainly have the leverage in any scenario that Dak doesn't lead the Cowboys to a good season. He's going to need monster stats again if the Cowboys don't make the playoffs, to be in position for a big payday. I think if Dak has an injury, it would be better than "totally bombing." But I still think the Cowboys and Dak will get a deal done by July 15. It just doesn't make sense for either side not to do that, in my opinion. With all this uncertainty that we have in our world right now, it trickles down to the NFL, where we don't really know how it's going to play out. To leave guaranteed money on the table for future years just seems irresponsible.
Jonny: That's sort of a grim question. If the injury is extremely serious, then it would obviously affect his leverage. That's something that people rarely talk about in these conversations. Dak believes he'll eventually be worth every dollar he's asking for, and he has wanted that money now because this is a dangerous sport, which is why using the franchise tag on him put him in a difficult and uncomfortable position. But let's say he misses nine games with an injury that isn't expected to have long term effects. I would say that he still has enormous leverage because there aren't a lot of quarterbacks as good as him. Think about the last two Super Bowl outcomes: Do you think the Rams (lost 13-3) or 49ers (lost 31-20) would have won if they had Dak instead of Jared Goff or Jimmy Garoppolo? I do. And both of those guys are paid a lot of money.