Spagnola: This Year's Bottom Line On Relevancy


FRISCO, Texas – Whu there seems to be a lull in the action.

That is, unless you have jumped on the Coco Gauff tube at Wimbledon, the precocious U.S. teenager in London ranked 313 in the world advancing to the Round of 16 at a mere 15 years of age.

Figured this is a good time to determine this year's Mr. Relevant during this otherwise slow period. You know, the guy the Dallas Cowboys dearly need to step up, to help make the difference between last year's 10-6 and advancement to the NFL's Round of 8 to, well, maybe something big.

As you might remember, this is my definition of becoming relevant:

Someone or somebodies the Cowboys absolutely need to break out if they are to have some success; a player or players with either no or modest resumes the Cowboys desperately need to produce.

Well, when you have as many projected starters returning as the Cowboys have this year, by my count going off the starting lineup from the divisional round playoff game of last season, that would number nine on offense, but a couple of asterisks since there seems to be a good chance four-time Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick is ready to resume his starting role in place Joe Looney, last year's starter because of his absence, and really not sure how the tight end position will play out with Jason Witten's return.

And defensively, as many as 10 guys could be in place, that dependent on if Byron Jones (hip surgery) can return in time and we'll count Sean Lee as a starter, even though he's moving to strong-side linebacker. The lone spot up for grab as the Cowboys head toward the July 25 reporting date for the start of training camp would be right defensive end.

Me, I'm circling that position, at this point a curious unknown.

Oh, I guess there could be other candidates. Most might think left guard, the spot last year's second-round draft choice Conner Williams should regain. But come on, don't tell me left guard is a team's make or break position. And don't we already have full confidence veteran Randall Cobb will be a viable replacement for Cole Beasley? And the way Michael Gallup emerged the second half of last season, there would seem no problem at the other wideout spot opposite Amari Cooper. Plus, if you think differently, all you need to do is watch that video of Dak Prescott's top plays from last year. Seemed at least a third of those passes went to Gallup.

Defensively, and let me remind those who seem to have a problem with Jeff Heath at safety. The Cowboys did finish with the seventh-ranked defense, highest since that No. 1-ranking in 2003, with Heath starting at strong safety. And in the scheme of things, not sure the strong safety position is a team's make-or-break spot. And it sure didn't have much to do with the Cowboys allowing the Rams in that 30-22 playoff loss to rush for 273 yards.

Ah, but right defensive end. The blindside rusher, normally your money guy when it comes to sacks. But for the Cowboys, because of DeMarcus Lawrence's unique ability to play the run on the strong side, yet having become a unique pass rusher, too, totaling a team-high 25 sacks these past two years, he's been their money rusher. And in more ways than one if you just check out the five-year, $105 million contract he's been signed to, guaranteeing him 65 million smackeroos.

And if you think about it, while the defense was ranked seventh in total yards, 329.3 a game, and 6th in points (20.3), this unit was lacking in sacks and takeaways – T16th with just 20 takeaways and T16th with 39 sacks. And as you know if you've been paying attention to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the overwhelming majority of takeaways are created in the pocket – meaning pressure on the quarterback.

So, my gosh, what if the Cowboys can line up a feared pass rusher on the right side, someone who can take some attention away from Lawrence. Someone who can get to the quarterback yet set the edge against the run. This was a shared position last year, starting off with Taco Charlton starting the first seven games, but because of the Cowboys inability to play the run adequately over there, Tyrone Crawford, once Maliek Collins regained his health at the three-tech DT spot, started the next eight games really out of necessity, with Randy Gregory starting the season finale.

Now then, had Gregory, with his 6½ sacks last year, second on the team, not been suspended indefinitely during the off-season, he would have been penciled in as the starter. And while it seems he might petition the commissioner for reinstatement, who knows what his status will be on Sept. 8.

Taco? He returns from shoulder surgery, but who knows what he can do since last year while starting those seven games and playing 39.2 percent of the defensive snaps, the 2017 first-round pick didn't have one sack, giving him just three in two years.

Crawford? Great against the run, but still to me is a better pass rusher inside than out, finishing with 5½ sacks last year while playing both spots.

After that? Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, maybe Jalen Jelks if he even makes the 53-man roster? Who knows.

That's why my guy this year who must regain top relevancy in the NFL has to be Robert Quinn.


No. 1, that's why the Cowboys traded for him, giving up a 2020 sixth-round pick to Miami and inked him to a one-year, $8 million salary, with incentives to be made. He was born to rush the passer on the right side.

No. 2, the guy has pedigree, totaling 69 sacks over his eight seasons (seven with the Rams, one with the Dolphins). Why 29½ of those sacks came in two seasons, his 2013-14 Pro Bowl seasons. In fact, he had another 8½ in 2017 for the Rams before they deemed him dispensable while moving to Wade Phillips 3-4 defense last year and trading Quinn away. Still, last year Quinn had 6½ sacks in Miami, but with the Dolphins now moving into a 3-4 and Quinn costing $12.9 million base/roster bonus, he again was deemed dispensable, taking whatever they could get.

No. 3, the Cowboys coaching staff really likes Quinn, and for a guy initially projected to be a designated pass rusher, and again, depending on how he plays when the pads come on – remember All-Frisco Jihad Ward last year – there now are thoughts he can become a three-down right defense end.

When asking if he can play the run, I got an overwhelming affirmative nod. A three-down defensive end? You bet, I was told, he can be the starter. Was told he's "really liked."

And then take into account what Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett also had to say of the newcomer:

"Just a really, really good football player – a great rusher, an elite rusher in this league for a number of years, an underrated run defender, plays hard, he's athletic, he's quick, but plays with determination, and that's what we saw from afar competing against him, and that's what we've seen since we've had him.

"He's a real pro."

With so much unknown at that position with those other guys, at least Quinn is known. Think about this. His 15 sacks over the past two seasons would rank second on the Cowboys behind just D-Law's 25, but far ahead of the second-place finisher Crawford's 9. And his 18 tackles for losses these past two seasons matches Lawrence's total and is far ahead of the next Cowboys defensive lineman, Collins with 7.

That's good enough for me. A least this much we know.

Now the Cowboys really need Quinn to become known as their Mr. Relevant.