Micah Parsons is looking to take yet another step forward in 2023, and DeMarcus Lawrence is as dominant as ever — bookends to a line that can continue creating terror going forward
FRISCO, TX — There are several positions of need for the Dallas Cowboys as they piece things together for the 2023 season but, arguably, their defensive line isn't one of them. Under the advice of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who now has two seasons in Dallas under his belt and has committed to a third (at minimum), the front office has thrown resources at the group that's made it one of the best in the league.
And while they've done it mostly via the draft, they've begun sprinkling in well-timed free agency additions and at least one notable trade in 2022.
Let's take a moment to assess the science on the Cowboys defensive line, a unit that helped them have one of the top defenses in the league.
There is a lot for the current stable of defensive linemen in Dallas to live up to, to say the very least. In an organization that boasts a laundry list of Hall of Famers and/or Ring of Honor Inductees at the position, it's impossible to walk the halls at The Star in Frisco without seeing names and images of players like Randy Wright, Chuck Howley, Russell Marylan and Bob Lilly casting their stare upon you, and it doesn't end there.
After all, Charles Haley literally still walks the building and patrols the practice fields, applying his own brand of advice and criticism with the hopes of pushing the newcomers — as well as the veterans — of the defensive line to heights they probably never fathomed themselves capable of reaching.
You'll also catch legendary outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware strolling the premises a time or two, as he prepares for what might be his immortalization into the Hall of Fame in 2023. It all serves as a constant reminder of what the standard is, both at the edge and on the interior of the defensive line.
And while it's unknown what the final story will be for the current group, no one can argue the unit is trending due north right now.
That's also largely because they haven't ordered any more tacos.
Though it's not quite the Doomsday Defense, it's a group led by both DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons, the former having returned to Pro Bowl status in 2022 — disproving his doubters wrong in the process. Parsons knows a little something about doubters too, by the way, considering the Cowboys were reamed by many for using a 12th-overall pick on a linebacker (who was once off-ball but isn't much anymore).
All Parsons has done in his first two seasons since is earn a salute as 2022 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year along with two Pro Bowl nods, two First-Team All-Pro honors, as well as leading the Cowboys in sacks both seasons and setting a franchise record or several in the process.
But wait, there's more.
There's the emergence of Dorance Armstrong, who's trajectory led him to a breakout year (2nd on the team in sacks) in 2022 following the departure of Randy Gregory. There was a reason the Cowboys got a second contract done on Armstrong fairly quickly, because they'd be up against a pretty penny if he too were set to enter free agency this season.
Combine Armstrong with the unbridled value provided last season by Dante Fowler (6 sacks) and rookie second-round pick Sam Williams (4 sacks in zero starts) and the edge looked nothing short of dominant, and in waves.
The interior was secured by yet another player who registered a breakout year, namely Osa Odighizuwa, who routinely made a home in the opposing backfield, and the trade for Johnathan Hankins finally addressed/patched the run defense at nose tackle.
You could've thrown a coin at any role across the defensive line, starter or depth, in 2022 and hit a playmaker.
Can the Cowboys keep the band together, though?
Hankins and Fowler were both massive additions to the roster last season but both are set to hit unrestricted free agency in March, and with strong value. The same applies for Carlos Watkins, who played very well and made his presence felt on a regular basis, especially in run defense, and losing him to injury against the San Francisco 49ers demonstrated his importance; seeing as the run defense began to loosen without him on the field.
The good news is the youth movement is alive and well on the Cowboys defensive line, and that compliment isn't exclusive to Parsons, Williams or Odighizuwa. Chauncey Golston began to truly come on strong in December and carries a lot of promise into the offseason program and training camp.
Another season under Quinn will likely benefit all involved, including Quinton Bohanna, who had a solid start to the season before slowing a bit due to injury; and having learned from Hankins how to elevate himself at nose tackle can only be helpful.
Contractually speaking, the Cowboys are in a superb space across their defensive line, seeing as Lawrence's new deal was awarded in 2022 and Parsons is entering only his third year — contract talks on the two-time All-Pro likely not to begin until 2024. Armstrong is, as mentioned, under contract through 2023 as well and the large remainder are still on rookie deals.
It's paramount the Cowboys make all of this matter before the bill(s) come due, though.