DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys had an awful time at stopping teams from scoring on them in 2020 and they’ll need help to get better at it for the upcoming season. Luckily for them, J.J. Watt was released by the Houston Texans and could provide an immediate upgrade to the defense.
The process of improving the 28th ranked defense began when the Cowboys were swift to act and fired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after one season. In response, Dallas brought in Dan Quinn to run the defense. Quinn can’t fix it alone and having better players will be the necessary next step in remaking one of the worst defenses the franchise has ever seen.
Watt’s release means 31 other teams are picking up the phone and trying to find out what it would take to add the veteran pass rusher and the Cowboys should be among them. Dallas has a notable lack of depth on the defensive line and Watt’s presence would greatly improve their defense heading into the 2021 season.
Injuries and age may have slowed Watt over the past few years beyond his Defensive Player of the Year prime, but he’s still one of the better defensive ends in the league.
Watt would help any team, but the Cowboys remain needy on the defensive line. The team currently has DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory as their top two defensive ends, but more workhorses are needed at the spot and Watt also has the flexibility to line up inside and create havoc.
On their interior, the Cowboys only have Trysten Hill – who’s recovering from an ACL injury – and second-year man Neville Gallimore as reliable returning options at defensive tackle. Combined, the duo had 0.5 sacks in 2020 and the entirety of the DT group had just 2.5 sacks. Additionally, the run defense finished second-worst in the league after allowing 158.8 yards per game on the ground.
As a team, the Cowboys finished 20th in the NFL with 31 sacks on the season, so Watt would surely improve their ability to get after the quarterback. Lawrence had 6.5 sacks to lead the Cowboys last year and Gregory added 3.5, which tied for second on the team. More pass-rushing help is needed. Watt, meanwhile, has contributed at least five sacks in every season he’s been healthy enough to play all 16 games and has averaged 13.5 sacks in those seasons.
Dallas needs Watt. The question, as always, is will the team go after a top-tier player in free agency? The salary cap is already going to be tight and the Cowboys still haven’t addressed the biggest elephant in the room, quarterback Dak Prescott’s contract. It’s been a long time since the organization has brought in a highly-skilled, high-priced top free agent. Instead they have focused on spending their money on extending their own talent.
With that in mind, according to NFL Reporter Jane Slater, who routinely works as a Cowboys insider, there’s only a slim chance that the team signs Watt.
Watt would be a good fit with the Cowboys and makes a lot of sense if the 10-year veteran wants to stay in Texas. The money would have to fit what Jerry and Stephen Jones are comfortable with, which could be the biggest obstacle. There are teams with much more money to offer Watt and teams who are closer to a Super Bowl that he might consider.
This is where delaying paying Prescott hurts the Cowboys. Perhaps the Cowboys would have more money to spend and be closer to a championship had they already signed their franchise quarterback. Free agency and trying to improve their team without spending what it costs to acquire top talent is going to be a challenge.
It’s not often that you find veteran players as good as J.J. Watt on the market to significantly upgrade your team. Watt could make a difference for the Dallas Cowboys, but it feels like a long shot that they add one of the game’s best pass rushers over the last decade.
However, the Cowboys should absolutely inquire about signing Watt if they are serious about improving their defense.
Do you think the Cowboys should bring in J.J. Watt to enhance the defense? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.