The Dallas Cowboys have been one of the less active teams in the free agency market over the first week of the new league season. The NFL has already seen star wideouts Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. switch teams via trade as well as safety Earl Thomas and quarterback Nick Foles landed with new teams with big deals. On the contrary, Dallas has been focused on signing from within, more or less, after wide receivers Tavon Austin along with Allen Hurns and veteran tight end Jason Witten are rejoining the Cowboys for 2019 along with tight end minor free agent signings. These are their needs as the offseason continues, in this exact order of ascending urgency.
Tight End – This may seem confusing as the least of the three needs because future Hall of Famer Jason Witten returned from retirement about a month ago, signing a one-year deal for 2019 along with Blake Jarwin improving at the end of the 2018 season. So there is a mix of veteran leadership and young enthusiasm at the tight end position but Dallas should not see this as ‘enough’ for 2019. Witten is clearly past his prime and Jarwin has not come into his own, so to speak, so there is still a feeling of uncertainty at the position. Plus, the experimental project of Rico Gathers, who is a Baylor basketball star-turned-NFL tight end, has not panned out quite as planned and Dalton Schultz will look to build off his rookie campaign. One of the minor signings from Dallas included Codey McElroy, who was a former baseball player who aspired to play in the MLB but now turned back to football. There is some depth at tight end but there is no clear cut option which is why this position needs some addressing.
Defensive End – For the 2019 season, Dallas will not have defensive ends Randy Gregory or David Irving. Gregory is suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance abuse policy after receiving reinstatement this past year. There is hope for Gregory to return again to Dallas after having a career year. The same cannot be said for Irving. The Compton, Calif. native stated on social media nationally that he quit football and verbally attacked the NFL in the process as he used marijuana throughout his entire announcement. As a formidable need for Dallas, as well as signing Demarcus Lawrence to a long-term contract, they need to address this need, possibly through the draft since it is such a heavy defensive class or even through smaller free agent signings. One signing came on March 14, when Dallas inked defensive end Christian Covington, who set a career high with 3.5 sacks just a year ago. This signing makes a ton of sense but the Cowboys can not stop here when dealing with the defensive end position.
Strong Safety – The most urgent need for Dallas is indubitably at strong safety. Watching the Cowboys defense last season, they played extremely well with the only exception coming from the strong safety position. Being plain and simple, starting strong safety Jeff Heath is not going to get it done long-term for the Cowboys. He is at best a nickel safety who can cover slot receivers and even play on special teams. They need someone else starting at strong safety in 2019, but be glad it was not Earl Thomas.
A lot of attention swirled around the Cowboys and Thomas in free agency but it was a better move that Dallas did not sign him. Thomas is a free safety, not a strong safety which is a completely different position. If Thomas was signed, then playing time would be taken away from rising safety Xavier Woods, who is just entering his third year. Thomas demanded to be the highest-paid safety in the NFL after a broken leg injury shortened his season and he is entering 2019, being 30-years old. There are better alternatives out there for Dallas.
Aside from how well Dallas’ defense performed in 2018 under defensive play-caller Kris Richard, strong safety proved to be their one weakness. Heath can not be the starting strong safety in 2019 as he lacks consistency when in coverage and tackling. The Cowboys need to address this issue during the off-season with much urgency.
Tight end, defensive end, and strong safety must all be addressed before the 2019 season kicks off next September. All eyes will be on the Cowboys to see who they select, starting in the second round.