Building the New-Look Dallas Cowboys’ Defensive Line

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Cowboys Defense

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the Dallas Cowboys announced the hiring of Monte Kiffin, a long time defensive mastermind and father of the Tampa Cover 2 defense.

This hiring means the Cowboys will be switching from an attack 3-4 defense to a cover 2 style defense. The Cowboys have some pieces in place to make the transition a smooth one, but it will undoubtedly take some outside players via free agency, draft, or trade to make it work. The change will also make some players currently on the roster expendable.

One of those players could be outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who finally had a breakout season under former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Keeping Spencer would put the Cowboys in a huge bind, given that they will be about $20 million over the salary cap in 2013.

To alleviate some of that cap number, the Cowboys will need to restructure some contracts, or cut ties with some of the players deemed too expensive to keep - or who simply aren’t living up to their contracts. The Cowboys will also be penalized $5 million against the cap from penalty sanctions for how the team handled the uncapped 2010 season.

The Cowboys don’t have much wiggle room right now, but Jerry Jones and his cap experts have dealt with this before, and I fully expect they will work their magic and get the team in a position from which they can bolster the roster.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, back to the defense. In order to make the Tampa 2 defense work, the Cowboys will need some help up front. The Tampa 2 relies on having a very fast and aggressive line, often sacrificing size and strength for speed and flawless execution. For that, I have assembled a list of players that the Cowboys should consider getting whether it be via trade or signing via free agency in March.

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Osi Umenyiora

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The move to acquire Osi Umenyiora, via free agency, makes sense for Dallas because it will bring a legitimate 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end, which fits their new defensive scheme.

The New York Giants shunned Umenyiora, and I’m pretty sure the 10-year veteran would love to prove he still has some gas left in the tank. Also, is there a better way to get back at the Giants than seeing them twice a season with a division opponent, a la Chris Canty? Umenyiora started only four games in New York, but still came up with 43 tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles in 2012.

I like this move because bringing him in would not only spite the Giants, but it would provide the Cowboys experience up front from a 4-3 veteran, and it would also reunite him with long time friend and college team mate DeMarcus Ware.

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Henry Melton

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a guy all Cowboys fans should remember from the beat down the Chicago Bears put on the Cowboys earlier in the season: Henry Melton. Depending on what philosophy the Bears go with on defense, it could mean that Melton will test free agency come March. He’s arguably one of the best 4-3 defensive tackles in the league, so it’s hard to imagine that the Bears would simply let him walk in free agency.

Melton’s athleticism sets him apart from other players because he possesses the strength to engage offensive guards and stop the run, but also the speed to rush the quarterback, as evident from his 13 sacks in two seasons as a starter.

His success in Chicago, which ran the defense the Cowboys will be trying to implement, should make Melton a coveted addition. He would be a perfect fit and could serve as a leader among the defensive line.

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Jabaal Sheard

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This one is kind of tricky, because Jabaal Sheard is under contract with the Cleveland Browns, so the Cowboys would have to acquire him via trade. He’s one of the better talents at defensive end in the 4-3 scheme; however, due to the Browns switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense, he may be the odd man out in Cleveland.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound defensive end has publicly said he prefers to play in the 4-3 alignment, so maybe a sign-and-trade scenario involving Anthony Spencer could work here.

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Chris Long

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After the St. Louis Rams announced that they hired Rob Ryan to be their defensive coordinator, I think it’s pretty safe to say they will be implementing the 3-4 defense. However, the Rams are built, and have been for quite some time, to better suit the 4-3 defense given the talent they currently have on the roster.

Under Ryan, Anthony Spencer excelled and became a staple in the Dallas defense. However, with the Cowboys switching to the 4-3 defense, Spencer has become expendable. With both teams trying to implement a new scheme, a Spencer-for-Long swap would benefit not only both players, but both teams as well.

However, after the manner in which Ryan was forced out of town in Dallas, he could very well likely tell the Cowboys to go [expletive] themselves.

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Mario Williams

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills signed the former No. 1 overall pick to a huge $100 million contract during the offseason to help the defense transition into the 4-3 under former head coach Chan Gailey. Despite battling a nagging wrist injury, Williams turned in 46 tackles, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

The Bills, however, recently fired Gailey, and hired Mike Pettine, whose reputation as a 3-4 guru makes me believe the Bills will also be switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4, and could be looking for a legitimate pass-rushing outside linebacker. That’s where Anthony Spencer comes into this scenario.

Same as with Jake Long, a Spencer-for-Williams sign and trade could work for both teams, given that Williams has been openly vocal about playing defensive end in the 4-3 scheme, as opposed to outside linebacker in the 3-4.


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