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Cowboys beef up defense by signing three free agent defensive linemen

The Dallas Cowboys tackled their defensive line depth with a trio of signings to help bolster a unit that was among the worst in football in 2020.

DALLAS — After sitting relatively quiet during the first few days of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys went about trying to fix their defensive line. There might be questions about the quality of the players acquired, but for a position that was extremely thin heading into the offseason, the new additions should do the job of building the depth back up along the line.

The first move from Thursday was bringing in former Houston Texans defensive tackle Carlos Watkins on a one-year deal. The four-year veteran out of Clemson had his best season in 2020, picking up two sacks, two tackles for losses, and two more quarterback hits. 

Those are modest numbers, but they also would have put Watkins on top of the statistical chart among Cowboys DTs last season. Add in that Watkins was playing a bit out of position at defensive end for much of the year, and is perhaps more of a scheme fit for the Cowboys, and he could end up being a valuable rotational piece on the interior of the Dallas defensive line.

The Cowboys weren’t done after signing Watkins as they also handed DT Brent Urban a one-year deal. As a seven-year vet, Urban has played for three teams with his most recent squad being the Chicago Bears. Urban is a defensive tackle who’s going to do the grunt work in the trenches and specializes in stopping the run. 

A run-stuffer is a welcome addition to a defense that was next to last in rushing yards allowed last season.

It’s also worth noting that Urban had a career-high in sacks (2.5) in 2020 and his four QB hits were also the highest tally of his career.

Perhaps the most recognizable name of a player that the Cowboys signed on Thursday – relatively speaking – was defensive end Tarell Basham. With the New York Jets for the last 2.5 seasons, add Basham to the list of guys who had his best year last season. Basham compiled 3.5 sacks and 13 QB hits in 2020, by far his most in a season since he entered the NFL in 2017 as a third-round selection. 

Basham likely isn’t going to be a starter, but he can be a solid asset as a situational pass rusher and will add a veteran presence as the Cowboys await second-year DE Bradlee Anae to become more of a contributor. Bringing in Basham might also mean that the team isn’t going to bring back versatile pass rusher Aldon Smith.

There is also a common theme for all three additions, arm length. Perhaps this is merely a coincidence or maybe it is something that new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn prefers to have in his defensive linemen.

If Quinn wants to see his defense get more hands-on passes, he helped himself by adding three players who have the ability to knock the ball down. That’s a plus in a pass-happy league.

It’s also significant to note that none of these signings broke the bank for the Cowboys and none of them are considered a sure thing to make the roster. Only Basham got a deal longer than one season and the guaranteed money wouldn’t stop the team from releasing any of them if they don’t perform or aren’t the right fits.

However, Dallas desperately needed defensive line help and they brought in players who are capable of being part of a rotation. Having depth is an important part of building a defense and the Cowboys covered themselves without having to go deep into their wallet. The defensive line is now in a position to see more impact upgrades if Dallas chooses to go that route.

The signings fit the Cowboys’ brand of aiming for depth in free agency and although the players may change from year to year, the philosophy hasn’t. While the team is still looking for the right combination to make this philosophy work, this remains the norm with Stephen Jones running most of the personnel decisions in Dallas.

Are you satisfied with how the Cowboys are addressing their defensive deficiencies in free agency? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi. 

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