FRISCO, Texas – The major moves are done, for the most part.
Sure, talent acquisition is 365 days a year, as the Cowboys’ front office likes to say. But with the 2022 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, the roster that’s about to work through OTAs is the one that will open the season in September, with perhaps one or two exceptions.
That’s an interesting thought, because there are several roles within this team that don’t look settled – at least not yet.
Today, we’ll take a look at the team’s linebacker depth chart, as the overall position looks a little thing behind some rock-solid starters.
What’s The Issue: There doesn’t seem to be a problem on paper. The reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is a heck of a foundation for your linebacker corps. Behind Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch is back for a fifth season, with 49 career starts to his name. Throw in a couple athletic draft picks in Jabril Cox and Devin Harper, not to mention Luke Gifford, and things look pretty good.
The main issue is that these things rarely go according to script. Cox is rehabbing an injury after missing 10 games of his rookie year with a torn ACL. Vander Esch did play all 17 games last season, but he has missed significant chunks of time in two of his four years in the league. If, heaven forbid, the Cowboys’ linebacker depth is tested this season, they may find themselves lacking.
Who Can Fix It: The biggest variable in all of this is Cox, who is one of the most intriguing young players on this roster.
The former North Dakota State and LSU standout was seen by many as one of the steals of the 2021 NFL Draft. Widely considered a second-or-third-round talent by draft analysts, it felt like a sizable upset that Cox slipped to No. 115, where the Cowboys eventually snagged him.
Now, to see how accurate that was. Cox was lost for the season on Oct. 31 last year, having played mainly on special teams, with an impressive fourth down stop of Daniel Jones serving as his rookie highlight. All indications are that his recovery is going well, with an eye on him playing starter snaps in Year 2.
Outside Considerations: There’s no shortage of veteran linebacker help available, should the Cowboys decide they need some.
The big question here is, what would prompt that decision? For starters, we know the price would have to be right. With Parsons, Vander Esch and Cox already on the roster, the Cowboys seem unlikely to break the bank for a veteran. There’s also the question of usage. It’s a safe bet that Parsons and Vander Esch aren’t going to play a ton of special teams, and the same would likely be said for a veteran addition. That shouldn’t be a huge problem, with guys like Gifford and Harper capable of filling that role.
There are options. Former Cowboy Anthony Hitchens is available, as is Anthony Barr – who the front office coveted when he was a draft prospect in 2014. Longtime New England star Dont’a Hightower is also available.
The Cowboys probably also need to determine whether a veteran signing like those would be a necessary addition, or a progress stopper.
Best Guess: At the very least, the Cowboys probably want to work through their OTAs and minicamp before they worry about adding talent.
This is the time of year when everyone is optimistic about their draft picks and young contributors. Not to mention, the Cowboys’ current players have already been meeting and installing for a month at this point. May as well hit the ground running with the guys who are ready to go.
There is a lull between the end of offseason practices and the flight to training camp, though. By July, the Cowboys will have a better handle on their current talent – plus, the wait may give them time to reach an agreeable price with a veteran.
Again, this is all guesswork, but if the Cowboys do add linebacker depth, the educated guess is that it’ll happen later in the summer, or perhaps even after training camp is underway.