(Note: The content provided is based on opinions and/or perspective of the DallasCowboys.com editorial staff and not the Cowboys football staff or organization.)
FRISCO, TX — By now, you're well-aware of the needs the Dallas Cowboys have at several positions, or rather all of them, in some capacity or another, and that brings us to the one part of their roster whose cupboard is actually far from bare. The defensive line is the strength of the entire team, and that's a reality put on display time and again over the course of the 2022 season.
It's not without its flaws, however, and that's where free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft come into play. We'll discuss the latter later but, for now, it's all about wrapping up the inaugural offseason for the “Open Market” series — this time focusing on what the Cowboys can benefit from adding to their defensive line.
A relatively small tweak here and there would make the unit indomitable, so imagine what one big turn of the wrench might do.
Dante Fowler, Jr.:
You can add Fowler to the growing list of players who have found new life under the helpful wing of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. A former player of Quinn's in their time together with the Atlanta Falcons, Fowler signed a one-year deal to try and re-establish himself with the Cowboys and, needless to say, he achieved that goal — delivering six sacks in 17 games with no starts — and would be a welcome re-addition to Dallas' pass rush.
Hankins landed in Dallas via trade with the Las Vegas Raiders just ahead of the NFL trade deadline in 2022, and he wasted little time making his presence felt when he stepped on the field for the Cowboys. In need of a big-body nose tackle that could devour double (and sometimes triple) teams to allow the edge rushers their meal, while also clogging the interior lanes to bolster the run defense, it's a no-brainer to try and keep Hankins in the mix.
Watkins has been impactful in both of his seasons following an initial one-year deal in 2021 that would later be followed by another one-year deal in 2022. It'd be easy to look at Watkins' stat sheet and draw a conclusion based upon his zero sacks last season, but that would also prove you haven't watched a minute of Cowboys football. He was key in helping to stop the run and disrupted a laundry list of plays, including his "Thick-Six" INT + TD return against the Saints.
Osa Odighizuwa, Sam Williams and more:
It's no secret what Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong mean to the Cowboys defense in both the pass rush and run defense, Armstrong coming off of a breakout season that saw him rack up a career-high 8.5 sacks (second only to Parsons), but the fate of 2023 and beyond is as much about the up-and-comers as it is about those three stars. Odighizuwa found another gear in 2022 and, as such, has become yet another lineman to watch, consistently dominating the defensive interior.
Williams was a wrecking ball as a rookie second-round pick and more reps should equal more damage done to opponents.
Neville Gallimore had more ups than downs last season and Chauncey Golston came on strong during the back end of 2022, giving the Cowboys yet another promising interior talent whom they hope can benefit the development of Quinton Bohanna (along with the presence of Hankins as a mentor). In all, the defensive line is the strongest unit on the entire roster, but that doesn't mean they're perfect, though it does mean Dallas doesn't need to throw the kitchen sink at it.
But since we're already in the kitchen…
What's Out There:
Note: These players will be unrestricted on March 15, barring a newly-signed deal with their incumbent team prior to that date.
- Yannick Ngakoue
- Arden Key
- Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
- Samson Ekubam
- Charles Omenihu
- DeMarcus Walker
Each of the above EDGE talents carries a different price on the open market, but none that would equal what Payne or Hargrave might command. The most expensive on this list, presumably, would be Ngakoue, but he's worth it. From there, it's not difficult to work downward financially and still land a top-notch guy, even if only to turbo boost depth at the position, in players like Omenihu and Walker. If the Cowboys want to make their already lethal pass rush virtually unstoppable, add any one of these pending free agents if and when they become available.
Interior DL —
- Fletcher Cox
- Dalvin Tomlinson
- Sheldon Rankins
- Poona Ford
- David Onyemata
Don't fix your mouth to tell me about how Fletcher Cox would never choose to play for the Cowboys after we all just witnessed Jason Peters put on Dallas' uniform and proceed to save the day on more than one occasion. That tells me what I already knew about NFL loyalty in that anything is possible, but I'll admit possible doesn't always equal inexpensive, so be ready to pay a markup for a future Hall of Famer like Cox — unless he truly is taking his career "year-by-year" as he said in February.
Otherwise, Tomlinson awaits in a group that includes Rankins, Ford and Onyemata, each quite capable of changing a football game at nose tackle (primarily) or as a 3-technique (right of center) in a flex capacity.
All these players can be considered sprinkles on Dallas' ice cream and, as we all know, sprinkles are for winners.