But it’s clear the Dallas Cowboys think the biggest addition to their defense they have made and will make is coordinator Dan Quinn.
The Cowboys signed cornerback Jourdan Lewis to a three-year, $13.5 million contract, safety Keanu Neal (one year, $5 million max) and defensive backs Tarell Basham (two years, $6.5 million max), Carlos Watkins (one year, $1.75 million, $400,000 guaranteed) and Brent Urban (one year, $1.75 million, $500,000 guaranteed).
The Cowboys don’t yet know if Neal will play safety or linebacker, but his history with Quinn suggests he will be an upgrade at the defensive end position. Of course, many suspected the same thing with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and his relationship with coach Mike McCarthy last season, but the safety didn’t make it onto the team.
Basham (3.5 sacks), Watkins (2) and Urban (2.5) all hold the career record for 2020.
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Basham, who played for the New York Jets in 2020, had as many sacks as Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson last season. Urban, with the Chicago Bears in 2020, had as many as Everson Griffen in seven games with the Cowboys before he was traded. Watkins, a former defender from Houston, Texas, had as many sacks as Tyrone Crawford.
Maybe Basham becomes Benson Mayowa, who had six sacks in his first season as a Cowboys pick in 2017; Watkins becomes Nick Haden, who helped improve the defense from 2013 to 2015; and Urban is something like Jeremy Mincey, who had six sacks in his first season as a Cowboys pick in 2014.
The Cowboys believe you shouldn’t overpay in free agency. A year ago, they were facing players with solid resumes, but on the back end of their careers were Gerald McCoy, Clinton-Dix, Dontari Poe, Griffen, and Daryl Worley, and Dallas got minimal to no production from all of them.
Call the Cowboys their stubborn, cheap, salary cap dependent M.O., call it what you will, this franchise just isn’t going to take a big hit in Free Agency.
Without a major contract, or you could say a recognizable one, it’s also clear that the Cowboys don’t want to restructure the contracts of receiver Amari Cooper, linebacker DeMarcus Lawrence, running back Ezekiel Elliott or any other major player because the future cap room will eat at them.
Stephen A. Smith has no confidence in Dan Quinn as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, as he was the Falcons’ coach in fixing mistakes this season.
All of those decisions involve Quinn, who replaced former coordinator Mike Nolan in January.
He has a lot of experience. He’s an experienced man. If you’re around him, you’ll see it, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. He’s certainly a dedicated football coach, and he’s been through it all. We have a lot of records, if you’re talking about a player. We have a lot of information to decide how it suits us. It was absolutely perfect for us to come here in this situation. He’s going to have a huge impact, a huge impact on how we set up our defensive team. He has such authority.
Quinn joins the Cowboys after a 43-42 run as coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 through five games in the 2020 season. He got the Falcons job with his two years of experience as a defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2013 and ’14, the Seahawks were No. 1 in yards and points allowed and went to two consecutive Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XLVIII.
In 2013, the Seahawks became the first defense since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the league in yards, points and takeaways.
But Quinn doesn’t have the Legion of Boom in Dallas: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas in high school. The Cowboys are without Bobby Wagner, C.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith at linebacker. They have no defensive line with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Tony McDaniel and Red Bryant in these two years.
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The Cowboys don’t believe their defense is as bad as it looked in 2020, although the defense as a unit allowed a franchise-record 473 points last season. Nolan’s scheme didn’t fit the players the Cowboys had on the roster. There was a lack of consistency between what was happening up front and what was happening in the back.
Quinn will bring back a system similar to that of former coordinators Rod Marinelli, Matt Eberflus and Chris Richard from 2014-2019, where defenses depended more on overall performance than on superior talent or smart X’s and O’s. The Cowboys’ former defense was complementary to a potent offense, especially in 2014 and 2016.
With quarterback Dak Prescott back, as well as offensive linemen Tyrone Smith and La’el Collins, the Cowboys believe their offense will be one of the best in the NFL in 2021, scoring lots of points without needing a defense to become the ’85 Bears or even the ’13 and ’14 Seahawks.
Dallas just needs a good defense.
He’s going to be special, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said of Quinn. When Coach McCarthy, Jerry and I had something like a defensive coordinator, there was nothing but rave reviews.
As players, they want to put all their eggs in one basket. They want to play for him. We have a lot of good players on defense, whether it’s DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch or Jaylon Smith, or whether Randy Gregory plays hard. Young guys like Gallimore and Tristen Hill. There are a lot of things he can work with, and I think he’ll get something out of it. He will set up a system where they can play hard, fast and confidently.
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