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What Does Adding Quinn Mean For This Defense?


FRISCO, Texas – Given how much it's been talked about these last two weeks, it's hardly a surprise that Robert Quinn will be a Dallas Cowboy.

There's no sugarcoating it: The defensive end position was a mess, and the Cowboys didn't try to hide it. Chief operating officer Stephen Jones said in Phoenix on Tuesday that the front office was still working to add pass rushers – a likely reference to this trade – and he also said defensive line would be one of the top priorities in this year's draft.

With all of that in mind, the Cowboys deserve plenty of kudos for being aggressive, yet smart, in addressing the problem. By trading for Quinn, they're adding a Pro Bowl-caliber talent to a line that desperately needs one. Quinn's 6.5 sacks in 2018 would have been the second-highest total on this roster, just barely edging out Randy Gregory's total of six.

At the same time, Quinn is about to turn 29 and brings a well-documented history of back injuries with him. That's why the Cowboys are acquiring his services for the manageable price of a Day 3 pick in next year's draft.

OK, good. The actual news has been established. But as always, let's take a look forward. What exactly does this mean for the Cowboys in the short- and long-term future?

Why Is Quinn Here?

This is a bigger name than we've typically heard during Cowboys free agency, but the overall purpose is the same.

The Cowboys dealt for Quinn because defensive end is a glaring problem, and they didn't like their odds of fixing it without a first-round draft pick. Difference-making pass rushers go off the board in the first 20 picks, and the Cowboys aren't on the clock until pick No. 58.

By trading for him, they're adding a proven starter who is capable of delivering pressure. Quinn is currently sitting on 69 career sacks, highlighted by a 19-sack effort in 2013. He's managed 15 in his last two seasons. He can play on the all-important ride side, which Rod Marinelli will happily tell you is one of the most crucial positions in his defense.

As it stands right now, the Cowboys' best two pass rushers have ambiguous futures. Gregory is suspended indefinitely. And however optimistic the front office might be that he can work toward reinstatement, it'd be unwise to count on it.

Lawrence is obviously in the middle of a heated contract negotiation. More on that in a minute.

Point being, the Cowboys were headed toward a situation where they'd have to draft for need. With Quinn in the fold, they don't. That's not to say they won't add help in the draft, but now they don't have to.

Who is Quinn Replacing?

This could be a bit of a loaded question, depending on your outlook.

It's obvious that Quinn can replace Gregory, as has already been noted. But does it mean more than that?

Lawrence has been hit with the franchise tag for a second-consecutive year, guaranteeing him a one-year, $20.5 million salary. The problem, of course, is that Lawrence has no interest in signing the tag this time around, as he gears up for a holdout in search of a long-term contract.

Stephen Jones noted Tuesday that there's an obvious "delta" between the top of the edge rusher market and everyone else. That's due in large part to Khalil Mack, who signed a six-year, $141 million contract with the Chicago Bears last September.

The finer details of the negotiation aren't public knowledge, but it's obvious that Lawrence wants to be paid near the top of that market. It's hard to say what number will get that done, but it won't be a small one.

For his part, Jones made it perfectly clear: This isn't about either Quinn or Lawrence – it's about both.

"We're motivated to get this deal done with DeMarcus Lawrence," Jones said on Thursday. "He's obviously a guy who's been here, homegrown, who plays the game we like it to be played."

If that comes to pass, it's not hyperbole to say this will be the Cowboys' most productive pair of pass rushers since 2012, when DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer both managed 11 sacks.

If for some reason it doesn't work out, then refer to the earlier part of this article: The Cowboys have at the very least covered themselves.

What About the Rest of the Line?

If Quinn and Lawrence are both in attendance when this team reports to training camp, we might be talking about the deepest Dallas defensive line in recent memory.

That tandem would provide the Cowboys with Pro Bowlers at both defensive end spots. Behind them, there'd be a versatile veteran with 22 career sacks in Tyrone Crawford. And that doesn't even include a first-round pick. Taco Charlton has yet to measure up to his draft stock, but it could be an awfully big boost for the unit if he takes steps forward in 2019.

Throw in Dorance Armstrong and any rookie additions, and this is an awfully deep group – and that's before accounting for any potential contributions from Gregory, assuming there are any.

That could turn the attention back toward defensive tackle. The Cowboys made two affordable signings in Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington to pair with the duo of Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods. With Quinn in the fold, perhaps the front office decides to invest some draft capital on the interior, where the Cowboys have historically made do with late-round draft picks and street free agents.

Those questions are a ways off from being answered.

For the time being, adding Quinn follows the Cowboys' typical blueprint of addressing a need. The difference is that he's quite a bit better than your typical Dallas free agent.

And, depending on how the Cowboys handle these next few months, he just might help their defense take the all-important next step.