If you’re a loyal RantSports.com reader, then you’ve heard the preaching about the Dallas Cowboys’ lack of production at the defensive end position. You may have read this phrase here before: “contrary to popular belief, the Cowboys’ biggest weakness on defense in 2011 was defensive end, not the secondary.” However, today the savior of the defensive line is revealed and you might be surprised to find out who it is.
A month ago, Cowboys defensive end Sean Lissemore was named Dallas’ secret superstar, a player who will one day be a Pro Bowl-type contributor but hasn’t been discovered yet. Now that’s certainly not why this column was written, but is it coincidental?
No, because Lissemore isn’t a no-name player anymore, at least not in Cowboys country. While fellow defensive end Jason Hatcher certainly wasn’t a star in 2011, he was good enough to retain his starting spot. It’s the other side that needs attention and Lissemore could demand plenty of that in 2012.
For whatever moronic reason, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signed Marcus Spears to a five-year, $19.2 million extension just before the 2011 season began. He proceeded to ride the pine while free agent signee Kenyon Colemanstunk it up on the field. Both players are on the fringe heading into the 2012 NFL season and Lissemore is primed to take over the starting spot.
Lissemore will earn a little over half a million dollars in each of the next two seasons, but will be a free agent in 2014. You better believe Jones will sign him to an extension next off-season if he breaks out this year and that might mean the end of Coleman and/or Spears.
Nobody wants to pay a backup defensive end almost $4 million per year, especially when a third-round draft pick like Tyrone Crawford is itching for playing time. Even if Lissemore doesn’t break out as expected, just a decent year from him and a solid rookie season from Crawford would be enough for Dallas to part ways with Spears, leaving Coleman as a likely backup to Hatcher.
Of course, Rob Ryan’s complex scheme utilizes both three and four down linemen sets, so there will be times when Lissemore and Crawford are on the field at the same time, meaning possibly more playing time for Coleman, even as a backup. That still spells trouble for Spears, who isn’t worth his hefty new deal.
In short, Lissemore should and will win a starting job this year and that could make all the difference in the world for the Cowboys’ defense, especially considering the upgrades the team made in the secondary this off-season, as Ben Grimaldi pointed out last week. Indeed, this could be a big year for Dallas’ defense and that’s something that hasn’t been said for a long time.