The Dallas Cowboys had what certainly looks like a successful 2021 draft. It’s not uncommon, as they’ve had several good ones over the past few years. What hasn’t gone so well is free will. For several offseason, they’ve used a very cautious and at times parsimonious approach to bringing in outside talent. It didn’t go well, with frequent outright failures like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Dontari Poe last year.
So far things are looking much better for 2021. While we are still waiting for actual regular season data, all indications from training camp and preseason point to the eleven free agents signed this year. (not counting the recently claimed QB Will Grier or the RB who just signed Corey Clement) all having important roles to play.
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Only one, TE Jeremy Sprinkle, was not made on the initial roster of 53 players. (LS Jake McQuaide was released as part of a purely administrative decision and will be re-signed, as will P Bryan Anger, who has been tasked with clearing the place for Grier.) Sprinkle has been signed to the squad. ‘training and can be called up to 53 before the regular season with Sean McKeon a candidate to go to IR.
The others fulfill the following roles.
LB Keanu Neal
He’s a starter in the nickel defense, alongside first-round pick Micah Parsons. Although it was limited in its use because the team was protecting it, it was efficient and had a forced escape / recovery. Dan Quinn seems to have a clear plan for him and it’s entirely reasonable to think we won’t see the confusion and bad decisions that plagued linebackers last year.
S Demontae Kazee
Now that it is out of COVID protocols, it will be one of the starting securities. More exciting is real free security, something Dallas hasn’t had in years. His recovery from his serious injury last season appears complete. If he remains healthy, the coverage should be much better at depth.
OT Ty Nsekhe
Like it or not, he’s the apparent swing tackle. His game was not as impressive as many had hoped in the preseason, but the staff decided to accompany him. Hopefully, there isn’t much demand, if at all. If he is, we’ll know how much he can complete. And after what happened last year, he also offers at least a good chance that they are in better shape here.
DL Brent Urban
Its positional flexibility makes it capable of playing 1T, 3T and DE. His main value is being a stopper, and that’s a quality the team sorely lacked last year. As he revealed in his recent interview with our Talking about the star podcast, he brings leadership and a real team attitude to the group on the defensive line. Neville Gallimore not having returned from injury, Urban could start at the start of the season, and possibly longer.
DT Carlos Watkins
Assuming rookie Osa Odighizuwa has secured one of the starting positions in the middle of the defensive line while awaiting Gallimore’s return, Watkins is another option to start alongside him. When he was first signed he was not considered likely to stay, but he claimed his place on the list. He is now clearing COVID protocols and will be in the field.
BY Tarell Basham
He appears to be a key rotating player behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Dorance Armstrong will likely be vying for playing time with him, but expect the staff to find plenty of opportunities for both to be on the pitch. Basham may be the first choice for the downhills, with Gregory coming in to block the pass.
S Malik Hooker
He was signed during camp after convincing the team that he had recovered from his own injury in 2020. He has the ability to replace both free safety and strong safety, which could allow him to play a relief role for Kazee and Donovan Wilson. He gives the team more viable depth than it has had in this position in some time.
Like Hooker, Kearse is a good deep hunk, with a strong veteran presence. This is more of a pure safety box, but shows some value when it comes to coverage. He could also be a candidate for special teams.
As mentioned, Sprinkle may see the 53-player roster soon, and at least is a ready resource if the Cowboys need another tight end. McQuaide and Anger will be on special teams at the start of the regular season.
There is still a chance that one or more of these players will fail, but the prospects for success for many or even most of them look good. It could be the start of a trend, or just a flash in the pan. But after so many missed opportunities in free agency this is one of the most encouraging courses we have seen in years.