FRISCO, Texas –The Cowboys must make decisions on more than a dozen of their own free agents this offseason.
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens, one of the defense's most underrated players, is a priority to bring back.
"Certainly we want to do everything we can to keep Hitch right along with Sean (Lee) and Jaylon (Smith)," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told 105.3 The Fan on Monday.
Hitchens doesn't make a lot of headlines playing next to Lee, a co-defensive captain and two-time Pro Bowler. But the Cowboys value Hitchens' production, consistency and versatility.
In 2016 he collected a career-best 104 tackles, according to coaches' film. In 2017, despite missing the first four games following knee surgery, he ranked third on defense with 89 tackles.
Hitchens can play any linebacker spot in Rod Marinelli's defense, and moved from middle linebacker to the weak side in three games Lee missed with a hamstring injury.
Jones emphasized the importance of linebacker depth because it's such a taxing position. The Cowboys were thrilled with Smith's first season back from a career-threatening knee injury and believe he'll make a "big jump" in 2018.
Hitchens' return would help stabilize that core.
"I think at a minimum you do need three guys like a Sean and a Jaylon and a Hitch to really get through a season," Jones said. "Now, two of our linebackers are playing a lot of plays and then you have some sub-linebacker work that guys like Damien Wilson participate in. But I think to have three guys that you could really count on is a must this day and time."