Editor's Note: April is here, which means the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft is just around the corner. DallasCowboys.com's 11-part series analyzes every position on the Cowboys' roster at this point in the offseason: free-agent additions and subtractions, draft possibilities, returning players and question marks. The series continues with defensive tackles.)
Roster Holdovers: The Cowboys should have a solid mix of returning tackles, assuming Tyrone Crawford indeed moves back to his natural position of 3-technique tackle. However, the Cowboys probably won't make that an official move until after the draft, sorting out the entire roster to see who fits where. That's the good part of versatile players such as Crawford, who played end last year mainly out of necessity. The Cowboys also have Cedric Thornton, who has played more snaps than any other player on the entire D-line. And then there's Maliek Collins, who could've been the best rookie for several teams, but didn't stand out as much behind Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Collins might be ready to explode here in his second season.
Free Agency Overview: The Cowboys lost a key player in Terrell McClain, who will likely face them twice this year as a new member of the Redskins. The Cowboys really liked his quick feet and awareness to get to the ball. However, he did battle injury concerns throughout his time with Dallas, which was one reason the team didn't get into a bidding war with its division rivals. Instead, the Cowboys signed free agent tackle Stephen Paea, a six-year veteran who brings experience and strength to the middle. Paea spent four years with the Bears from 2011-14, playing under then-defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
Draft Outlook: The Cowboys obviously need defensive help and will likely consider all positions in the early rounds. It's not likely tackle is a top priority here, but nothing is out of the question. Considering the fact that Crawford, Collins, Thornton and Paea are figured to make up a solid four-man rotation, with the possibility of David Irving sliding inside at times, other positions make more sense. But in the middle rounds, there could be some options. Young, strong linemen are not easy to find so if a player such as Washington's Elijah Qualls (6-0, 315) was around to bolster the middle, the Cowboys could take a look. Other 1-technique options would be LSU's Davon Godchaux and Ole Miss tackle D.J. Jones.
Time To Shine: This category could qualify for several of the linemen but it might fit Crawford the best. He has been productive and certainly willing – not only to move positions for the betterment of the team but also to play through injuries. But he's still getting paid as one of the top defensive tackles in all of football. The Cowboys need all of their front-line players, especially on defense, to shine as bright as possible and Crawford would be no exception.