DALLAS — We’re two weeks into free agency and it appears as though things are going according to plan for the Dallas Cowboys. The team had glaring needs along the defensive line and in the secondary, which they have addressed in the prudent manner that was expected of them.
The Cowboys began quietly in the first week, adding depth to the offensive line, their special teams, and by re-signing their own players for the right price. However, after the first wave of expensive veterans went off the board, the team went about rebuilding the defense by adding to the defensive line to help fill glaring holes for a squad that finished next to last in stopping the run in 2020.
Next, Dallas sought to fix the secondary. To help out at the safety position, the team leaned heavily on new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s advice and signed two players he was familiar with from his time with the Atlanta Falcons.
Keanu Neal was the first safety shoe to drop when he chose the Cowboys over the New York Jets. Neal’s versatility was a major reason for his addition and, although his role has yet to be seen on the field, Neal could be lining up at linebacker more than safety.
With the defense short on linebackers, Neal’s addition makes sense. The fact that Neal will be playing closer to the line made adding FS Damontae Kazee shortly after Neal a smart move.
Kazee has knowledge of Quinn’s system and will be a welcomed addition at a cheaper price than some of the other safety options. The veteran out of San Diego State was limited to just four games last year due to a torn Achilles injury, but Kazee does have a propensity to create turnovers.
Kazee has 10 interceptions during his four-year career, which would easily put him ahead of any Cowboys defender over the same time span. Add in Kazee’s five forced fumbles to a defense that has had issues creating turnovers and Dallas appears to have a new takeaway machine.
So where does this leave the Cowboys currently? The team brought in help to address their biggest problem areas and, true to form, they did it with short contracts and players who fill in the gaps. Although a few of their free agent additions could make an impact, Dallas hasn’t brought in any headlining difference makers.
What the Cowboys have done is made sure that they won’t have any glaring weaknesses when the draft comes along. That is important so that they aren’t pigeonholed into taking one player at a major position of need. The organization has done a solid job of preparing itself to take the best player available in the NFL draft in recent years.
Careful planning shouldn’t mean that the Cowboys are done adding talent, though. There is still work to be done. After a slow start, the team has begun rebuilding the defense. Their patient, cautious approach hasn’t stopped the Cowboys from getting better and it’s important to note that there are good players available who can help.
Dallas could use a boost at cornerback, defensive end and linebacker. All three positions still have solid options in the open market and the Cowboys could be entertaining the idea of adding to at least one of these positions.
Free agent LB K.J. Wright – who played under Quinn with the Seattle Seahawks – is a player of interest for the Cowboys. Wright would bring a boost of depth and stability to the linebacker position if the team were able to sign him.
Dallas could also dive into the CB position, where there remains talent. Richard Sherman is available and is another Quinn disciple. Despite his age, he can still play. The veteran corner would be a leader on the defense and in the secondary as well.
Other cornerbacks that would be upgrades for the team include Josh Norman, A.J. Bouye, and Casey Hayward. If the Cowboys were to add any of those options, it would lessen their need for a CB when the draft arrives. As of now, most mock drafts have Dallas selecting a cornerback in the first round because they lack talent and depth at the position.
Lastly, the Cowboys could use an edge rusher. With last year’s find Aldon Smith moving on, the defense needs a viable third option in the rotation after defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. The hope is that second-year pro Bradlee Anae develops, but without him seeing many snaps as a rookie, Dallas still needs another pass rusher.
Two of the best options remaining are veteran edge players Justin Houston and Ryan Kerrigan. The Cowboys should be in on both sack masters and have shown a propensity for finding pass rushers long after the first wave of free agency.
A few offseasons ago, the Cowboys were able to trade for Robert Quinn. Last year they added Everson Griffen well into free agency. Quinn worked out, but Griffen wasn’t a fit. However, it’s clear Dallas has pass-rushing needs and Houston or Kerrigan would be a big help. Houston had eight sacks last year with the Indianapolis Colts, while Kerrigan was phased out in Washington, but still had 5.5 sacks. Both totals would’ve been celebrated on the Cowboys, who were led by Lawrence with 6.5.
Currently, the Cowboys don’t sport enough depth on the edge to consistently provide pressure and get after the quarterback. Unless they have a target in mind at the draft, Dallas would be wise to spend some more of their free agent money on a pass rusher.
It’s still early but the Cowboys have put together a good free agent class. The roster could be even better by adding another veteran or two. There’s time to improve before the draft.
How do you feel about how the roster is shaping up for the Cowboys ahead of the NFL Draft? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.