The 2015 campaign is over. I’m not here to rehash what was but rather to look at what is and where Big D needs to get. Today it’s all about the linebacker. Lee Roy Jordan, Chuck Howley, Bob Breunig, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, D.D. Lewis, Ken Norton Jr. and yes, Bradie James. Dallas knows linebackers.
Today in big D any linebacking conversation starts and stops with Sean Lee. Is he going to make it out of the offseason unscathed? Will he start the season? How many games can he deliver in 2016? When you enter the league on one wheel and continue to get banged up every season these are valid questions. When your talent level makes you a consensus all-pro if you’re on the field it makes them critical queries.
It’s a different unit when Sean Lee is an active part of the defense. I know it. You know it. Opposing teams know it. On a team/injury friendly contract Dallas isn’t going to get away from these issues. They’re going to live with them. That means you do as well.
Once you get past the injury issues (knee, concussion, etc.) it becomes a matter of position. Lee excels at both middle and weakside linebacker. Rod Marinelli would prefer to play him at the weakside. That being the case (it is) then some moves need to be made.
Dallas Cowboys Linebacking Corps
|LB||Darius Eubanks||1||Signed||Scout Team||$450,000|
|LB||Derek Akunne||1||Signed||Scout Team||$450,000|
|LB||Keith Smith||2||Signed||Scout Team||$450,000|
SLB – Kyle Wilber is a free agent. Though not dynamic Wilber produced at both SLB and WDE. Andrew Gachkar was extremely disruptive from the position but is too light to handle it full time. Anthony Hitchens can play there (everywhere) but is a half step slow to the outside. There is no projected starter on the team for this position at this juncture.
MLB – Resign Rolondo McClain? That’s an option but after two consecutive years of productivity he won’t be quite as cheap an option as before. Sean Lee can play here but won’t. Hitchens is the projected starter in the middle at this point. That doesn’t bode well for pass defense and though excellent in short yardage doesn’t bring the physicality or athleticism that McClain did to the position.
WLB – Sean Lee. Behind him in the rotation is (of course) Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. Wilson is the one that really intrigues. He can fly and should be effective in pass coverage. His rookie year was a blip on the radar. 2016 would be an excellent time for him to show up.
LB2 – Anthony Hitchens is the consummate LB2. He can play every position competently. He is also part of the short yardage packages. Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson, Mark Nzeocha and Keith Smith can all fly, play special teams and have upside. To be frank the Cowboys are set at backup LB. They need starters.
Jerry Jones seems to love drafting perceived value versus football players that can produce on the field in year one. Over the years Jones has played to the drum beat by the next days early draft report cards that give him “great value” with a pick of an injured player. Bruce Carter, Sean Lee and now …….
OLB Myles Jack – 6’1″, 245 lbs UCLA – The man most pundits have Dallas taking with the number four pick other than a QB. It’s a good pick. He got hurt early in the year and should be ready for training camp of this year. He’s the total package. Interviews, speed, tackling, blitzing, range, instincts, coverage and he loves the game. Talent/Value wise it’s a solid pick and Dallas needs the talent. This would push Sean Lee back inside. If Myles is the option at four, I trade down.
OLB Jaylon Smith – 6’2″ 223 lbs Notre Dame – Smith is the best player in the 2016 NFL Draft. He also “may” have nerve damage in his knee that he blew out in the Fiesta Bowl. HIGH RISK. BUYER BEWARE. Yes, he is that good. If healthy he goes number one. He’s not and he “probably” won’t go in the first round.It all depends on the medical. He will NOT be available for the 2016 season. He also would push Sean Lee back inside.
ILB Reggie Ragland – 6’1″ 247 lbs Alabama 4.72 40 yard dash – Ragland is a Sean Lee type guy. A football player. He had a very solid combine to pair with his collegiate tape. Draft him. Plug him in the middle. Don’t worry about the position for a few contracts. A big, fast, thumper who displayed nice coverage skills at the combine should be available in the middle of the first round. If Dallas trades down, I can see Ragland being a target. He would look just fine with a star on his helmet.
OLB Darron Lee – 6’1″ 232 lbs Ohio State 4.47 40 yard dash – Lee blew up the combine and has all the skills to be a solid NFL outside linebacker. Again, this would push Sean Lee back inside.
LB Deion Jones – 6’1″ 222 lbs LSU 4.59 40 yard dash – The LSU product is a football player. Fast, quick, strong, compact, tough, smart. Another outside prospect that should push Sean Lee to the inside. Jones can play inside and has the nose and toughness to excel there. Just don’t know if he has the size. Jones should be available after the first two rounds. He’s a steal. This guy is a football player who could fly under a few teams radar since he only started one year. He’s firmly fixed on my radar.
Rolondo McClain, Derrick Johnson, James Laurinaitis and my favorite of the group Danny Trevathan of the Denver Broncos are all MLB free agent options. In my eyes signing McClain, Johnson or Laurinaitis would be stop gaps whereas Trevathan would be a solution. Sean Lee like in abilities having both players on the field (Lee and Trevathan) on passing downs would give opposing QB’s fits. He would be coming from a 3-4 D and is perhaps a touch lite for a typical 4-3 MLB.
Dallas has been keying on linebackers in the draft for years. Their targets have been snatched a pick or two before their selection each time. The need is obvious. Historically Garrett fills out his entire roster via free agency on a budget. To a degree that frees his hands in the draft allowing him to take the better player versus the position of need when the picks roll around.
If a solid free agent or two is not signed Dallas has to hope the better player on draft day is a linebacker somewhere in the first three rounds.
You have a backer available in later rounds you like? Comment below.
What say you Sports Nation?
Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over