It feels like forever ago, given the coronavirus’ global stranglehold, but the Dallas Cowboys quietly landed two stud interior defensive linemen in Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe — eight Pro Bowls and nearly 650 pounds between them.
Together, with the incumbents from the 2019 squad, they form a close-to-impenetrable wall in the middle of Dallas’ front seven. That, on rushing downs.
On passing downs, the duo — especially McCoy, he of 59.5 career sacks — can also get after the quarterback, boosting a unit that notched just 39 takedowns in 2019, among the bottom half of the NFL. This number is dramatically underwhelming when you consider Robert Quinn alone accounted for 11.5 sacks.
Needless to say, if the Cowboys’ offseason resembled a makeover, these two are an excellent foundation.
“They’re two damn good veteran football players,” head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Wednesday, via The Athletic. “They definitely fit what we’re trying to do up front, inside. Our outlook on how you play defense is you still got to stop the run. Then you have two big guys that can pass rush too.”
The Cowboys and McCoy agreed to three-year, $20 million contract at the onset of free agency. He brings a decade of starting experience and a resume highlighted by three first-team All-Pro selections, all of which with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Oklahoma native dubbed it a “dream come true” joining the club he grew up idolizing.
The No. 3 overall pick of the 2010 draft, McCoy went one-and-done with the Carolina Panthers last season. He registered 37 tackles, five sacks, and two pass breakups across 16 starts, proving he’s still a highly capable interior disruptor.
Albeit, a square peg forced into a round hole.
“I have never rotated as much as I did last year in Carolina,” McCoy said in March, per The Athletic. “That’s not what I was used to. I can play all game if I have to. … I’m an every down guy. That hasn’t changed, and I don’t plan on it changing this year.”
For his age-32 campaign, McCoy should immediately contribute for the Cowboys and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who likely was drawn to his ability to function as a 5-, 3- or 1-technique lineman — that is, the versatility to work along the edges, kick inside, or handle nose duties. He could start at DE opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, forcing veteran Tyrone Crawford to the bench.
Poe has a surer path to playing time, likely entrenched as Dallas’ primary NT, replacing Antwaun Woods, who could be relegated to sub-packages after expectedly signing his exclusive-rights free-agent tender. Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing a whopping 346 pounds, Poe has tallied 278 combined tackles (202 solo) while chipping in 20.5 sacks and 14 pass breakups across nine professional seasons.
Drafted 11th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012, he most recently completed a two-year stint in Carolina, where he was teammates with McCoy. Poe started all 16 games in 2018 but a torn quad prematurely ended his 2019 campaign following 11 appearances. He was on pace to set a new career-high for tackles and sacks before going down.
Nonetheless, Poe finished last year as Pro Football Focus’ No. 37 overall interior defender, earning solid marks in run support.
The additions of McCoy, Poe, edge rusher Aldon Smith, and rookie fifth-round DE Bradlee Anae, the hopeful return of Randy Gregory, the retention of Woods and Crawford, and the presence of $105 million man Lawrence should spell success for the Cowboys’ defense — to say nothing of linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch and defensive backs Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Trevon Diggs — in 2020.
And trouble for opposing offenses.
For once …
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