Cowboys Connected to Former Pro Bowl Defensive Lineman in Free Agency

Mike Daniels

Getty Mike Daniels hits Dak Prescott.

There’s a better-than-good chance the Dallas Cowboys are forced to replace free-agent defensive tackle Maliek Collins, and new head coach Mike McCarthy could import a familiar face to fill the void.

Making their 2020 NFL free agency predictions, Pro Football Focus linked the Cowboys to former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels, who’s likely one-and-done with the Detroit Lions.

The analytics outlet projects a two-year contract for Daniels, with a $5 million average annual value and $3 million guaranteed.

Mike Daniels’ peak years seem to be over. These past couple ofseasons, he wasn’t able to sniff his three-year stretch from 2015-17 when he produced PFF overall grades of 90.3, 77.3 and 81.5. That being said, he’s still capable of being an average to slightly above average interior defensive lineman. He’s not one to break the bank for, but the Cowboys won’t be in the market to do with Cooper and Prescott desiring hefty contracts.

Daniels knows McCarthy from their time in Green Bay, with whom the Iowa product entered the NFL. A 2012 fourth-round draft pick, he enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, recording 6.5 sacks as an interior pocket-pusher, and followed that up with sack totals of 5.5, 4.0, 4.0 for 2014, 2015, and 2016, respectively.

Daniels earned his first and only (to this point) Pro Bowl berth in 2017, when he collected 34 tackles (five “stuffs”), five sacks, and a forced fumble. He’d been an alternate for the NFL’s annual all-star game the previous three seasons.

Injuries marred his final year with the Packers (two sacks across 10 games) and his stint with the Lions (one sack, nine games). Entering his age-31 season, it is reasonable to say his best days are behind him.

The Cowboys, however, likely won’t spend heavily along the defensive line after handing $105 million to DeMarcus Lawrence in 2019, not to mention $68 million to linebacker Jaylon Smith — just on that side of the ball. In fact, their attention might be fixated exclusively on the offense until the Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper situations are resolved.

Daniels, on a short-term deal, would represent nice depth, at worst, and can be a pinch-starter, at best. It’s important to consider that starting nose man Antwaun Woods (exclusive-rights), reigning team sack leader Robert Quinn (unrestricted), and key backups Christian Covington (unrestricted) and Kerry Hyder (unrestricted) are all slated to join Collins (unrestricted) on the open market.

It’s not Dallas’ biggest roster need. But it’s up there.

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PFF: AFC Suitor Signs Byron Jones to Record-Setting Deal

After a rumor connected Cowboys star free-agent cornerback Byron Jones to the cap-flush Denver Broncos, Pro Football Focus instead envisions Jones joining the Oakland Raiders by way of record-setting five-year contract, worth $16 million annually, including a whopping $50.5 million guaranteed.

In 2018, the Raiders ranked dead last in EPA per pass allowed. In 2019, the Raiders ranked dead last in EPA per pass allowed. If I had to guess what Jon Gruden says to that, it’s “something’s gotta give, man.” The good news is, they have money in the bank to pay for one of the top defensive backs hitting the open market — and there isn’t a cornerback better in this free agency pool than Byron Jones. After bouncing around at various alignments in the secondary for three years, Jones found his home at outside corner in 2018 and has since been one of the five best in the NFL. In that role, he’s been a shutdown corner in press-man coverage — he allowed just 0.39 yards per coverage snap on those reps in 2019, the second-lowest figure at the position and over eight-tenths of a yard lower than the average. Daryl Worley was dead last in that stat, in case you were wondering.

The per-year value would surpass Miami’s Xavien Howard ($15.05 million) and the guarantee would blow past the Jets’ highwater mark-holder, Trumaine Johnson ($34 million at signing), making Jones the richest CB in NFL history.

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report previously predicted Jones inking a five-year megadeal with the Broncos when the league’s legal tampering window opens on March 16.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL