Speaking to SI.com’s Mike Fisher, Quinn lobbied to re-sign with the Cowboys after leading the team in sacks — and, more importantly to the 29-year-old, forming close-knit relationships with his new mates.
“Since I got here, at first I joined a locker room full of strangers, and then they became friends and some of them became brothers.
“You love when things happen like that,” he told Fisher.
Quinn was a revelation in his first Cowboys campaign, arriving via an offseason trade with the Miami Dolphins. Despite serving a two-game suspension to kick off the year, he delivered a team-high 11.5 sacks, second-most of his nine-year career, dwarfing the production of $105 million defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (five sacks). Quinn chipped in 34 tackles and two forced fumbles for good measure.
From one-and-done with the Dolphins to thriving in Dallas, the two-time Pro Bowler and former first-team All-Pro isn’t resting on his laurels, however.
“Overall, I guess I proved to people I’ve still got it,” Quinn told Fisher. “Personally, my standards are a little bit higher than what I achieved this year. I expect more out of myself. But I guess you can look at the pluses. In some way, it was a pretty good season.
“But I’m hard on myself. I always want more.”
That Quinn and the Cowboys seem to share a mutual feeling echoes a previous claim by plugged-in NFL analyst Tony Pauline, who reported from last week’s Senior Bowl that owner Jerry Jones “has been aggressive” in communicating Quinn’s hopeful retention.
“Robert Quinn is a free agent come March, but if the Dallas Cowboys have their way, he may not hit the market,” Pauline wrote. “I’m told Jerry Jones has been aggressive in letting Quinn know that he wants the pass rusher to be playing in a Cowboys uniform next year. I’m also told Quinn’s preference is to remain in Dallas. If Dallas makes Quinn a competitive offer, don’t expect him to leave town next season.”
It’s important that Jones comes through considering the Cowboys currently do not have a starting DE — Lawrence’s bookend — under contract. All of Quinn, Tyrone Crawford, and Michael Bennett, a midseason addition, are heading to unrestricted free agency, which begins March 18. Even backup DE Kerry Hyder is a UFA, and so are defensive tackles Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods and Christian Covington.
The Cowboys are expected to boast over $81 million in salary-cap space. It’s enough to keep Quinn in tow, though he likely takes a backseat to free-agent priorities Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, and perhaps cornerback Byron Jones, whom Pauline reported is being courted hard by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s a business – you know how it goes,” Quinn told Fisher. “I’ve never been a free agent before, so it’s an interesting process I’m about to go through. We’ll just sit back and see what happens.”
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ESPN Poo-Poos Quinn’s Odds of New Dallas Deal
The NFL, as Quinn noted, most definitely is a business — a dog-eat-dog one, at that. There’s only so much money to go around, and Quinn may price himself out of the Cowboys’ range, particularly if the club indeed rewards Prescott and/or Cooper with market-resetting contracts.
For what it’s worth, ESPN reporter Todd Archer doesn’t like Quinn’s chances of staying in Dallas, whose defensive line depth chart awaits a major makeover.
An argument can be made that each level of the defense can be considered the Cowboys’ biggest need.
They are likely to lose their 2019 sack leader, defensive end Robert Quinn, to free agency and have no idea if or when Randy Gregory can play again.
Defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Christian Covington are set to be free agents, as are Michael Bennett and Kerry Hyder, who played end and tackle in 2019. Defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who is recovering from hip surgery that ended his season early, is set to make $8 million in the final year of his deal.
With so many linemen slated to hit the open market, Dallas is stuck between a rock and a hard place: Bring back the incumbents or look out-of-house for their replacements?
Head coach Mike McCarthy has confirmed the team largely will remain in a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Mike Nolan. This system calls for hefty space-eaters along the interior, which Dallas lacks at the moment. Vice president of player personnel Will McClay, however, cryptically teased that may soon change.
“At the end of the day we’re going to stay within the same scheme. And we’re going to do things a little bit different,” McClay said last week, via Blogging The Boys. “So our job is to go and evaluate all of the players. They might want bigger interior players, so, that’s fine, we’ll go and look for that. But I think we’re going to be looking for the same type players.”
To do the trick, the Cowboys might opt to re-sign the 310-pound Woods or 308-pound Collins. They, too, are in a prime position to select South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw — one of the best DL prospects in the upcoming draft, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 315 pounds — with the No. 17 overall pick in April.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL