A lot of things are weird about football in the summer of 2020. Seasons are canceled, training camps are affected, and Super Bowl contenders are adding key pieces in the middle of August. Such was the case when the Dallas Cowboys, who couldn’t get a Jamal Adams trade done, signed veteran EDGE Everson Griffen on a one-year, $6M deal.
For the past few years, the Cowboys have entered the season with mediocre defensive lines at best, regularly looking for production from such players as Benson Mayowa (led the team with six sacks in 2016), David Irving (second on the team with seven sacks in 2017), Randy Gregory (second on the team with six sacks in 2018), and most recently, Robert Quinn who led the team with 11.5 sacks last season.
At defensive tackle, the Cowboys did add Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, which gives them proven veteran production better than anything they’ve gotten out of Maliek Collins, Irving, Tyrone Crawford, and Antwaun Woods in the last few seasons. But Griffen is truly the biggest boon over such starters as Gregory, Taco Charlton, and the other big ends that the Cowboys have aligned opposite Lawrence. In the last five seasons, four of which have been Pro Bowl appearances for Griffen, his 45 sacks exceed that of any Cowboy, including Lawrence (39 sacks in five years). Of course, Griffen has played more games than Lawrence, but availability is a trait the Cowboys should look to hunt at the position, and Griffin has played at least 15 games in each of the last nine seasons.
Griffen’s presence on the Cowboys’ roster does not solve their biggest issue—the Cowboys’ starting outside corners look to be a “camp competition” of inconsistent Chidobe Awuzie, career nickel Jourdan Lewis, rookie Trevon Diggs, and rookie Reggie Roberson—but it does solve the problem that has plagued their roster for much of the last four seasons: a consistent defensive front that can generate a rush with four players. With new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s defensive front strategy yet unmeasured, it remains to be seen just who gets aligned in which fronts on which downs—but suffice to say, a front with Poe at nose, McCoy at the 3-tech, Griffen as the base end, and Lawrence as the rush end is mean, even if it is a couple years late.
How much better does Griffen’s addition really make the Cowboys, then? He vaults them into the discussion for the second-best roster in the NFC, behind the perennially stacked New Orleans Saints. With only big questions remaining in the secondary, the Cowboys are likely not better than the San Francisco 49ers (Dallas’ biggest question is CB1; SF’s biggest question is CB2), but the comparison forces a worthy discussion.
What stands out, even though it is unaffected by the signing of Griffen, is the strength of the Dallas offense, which in its totality, makes a strong case for the most loaded offense in the NFL. Often held back by Jason Garrett’s conservatism and the insistence on force-feeding running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys offense will be as good as the new coaching staff with Mike McCarthy and the returning Kellen Moore allows them to be.
But while the Cowboys’ defense can’t stack against San Francisco’s, it is now finally competitive with the defenses of other playoff-caliber teams. If Griffen is the eight-sack player that he’s been in the past few years, and McCoy is the six-sack player that he’s forever been, the Cowboys will have three legitimate pass-rush threats. Yes, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Green Bay, and New Orleans all have better defensive lines—but Dallas’ stands above Tampa Bay’s, Minnesota’s, Seattle’s, and Los Angeles’, instead of laboring at the bottom as they had done in past seasons.
On the whole, Dallas has clearly become the NFC East favorite and a legit Super Bowl contender by ironing out one of their biggest roster deficiencies late in the offseason—and at only $6M to boot. The Cowboys continue to push their chips in on the 2020 season and should be disappointed with anything less than a division championship and deep playoff push. Even with just average cornerback play, that goal is well within reach.