The Dallas Cowboys need to make some defensive changes this offseason. And the retooling has already begun with the defensive coordinator position. Dallas fired Mike Nolan after a single season and hired former Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom DC and Atlanta Hawks head coach, Dan Quinn, to replace him.
After a few more coaching staff hires, the Cowboys are now set to make some serious changes to the defensive roster. Pending free agents like safety Xavier Woods, defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, defensive end Aldon Smith, linebacker Sean Lee, cornerback Jourdan Lewis, linebacker Joe Thomas, and corner Chidobe Awuzie are all scheduled to hit the open market in March.
Their potential mass exodus should allow Quinn and company to make some wholesale changes at key positions. And it seems most of the offseason speculation surrounds the secondary and interior defensive line. But linebacker could see some movement as well.
The MMQB’s Albert Breer made waves during the season when he reported that some within the walls of the Cowboys’ facility believed linebacker Jaylon Smith‘s play wasn’t living up to the five-year, $64 million contract extension he inked back in August of 2019. And that Breer wouldn’t be surprised if the team moved on from Smith after this past season.
The 25-year old Smith ended 2020 recording a career-high 154 tackles, the second-highest total in the NFL. But the football analytics website Pro Football Focus also gave him an overall grade of 54.2 for his performance last year, the worst of his career so far.
Throw in health concerns surrounding former first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch, who has missed a total of 13 games over the last two seasons, and suddenly the Cowboys’ once highly-touted linebacker corps could be in need of an injection of talent.
That’s where Penn State’s Micah Parsons fits in. The young linebacker could very well be the first defensive player taken off the board in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in April. And with the Cowboys owning the 10th overall selection, Parsons is certainly on their radar.
While selecting an off-the-ball linebacker with a top-ten pick is likely not ideal for Dallas, Parsons might be too talented to pass up. And the Cowboys certainly proved last year with the selection of Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round that they aren’t afraid to draft for talent over team need.
Described as possessing a freakish combination of size and explosiveness by Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Parsons projects as a MIKE linebacker who has the ability to be a dynamic blitzer. Opting out last year, he recorded 109 total tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, five pass defends, and four forced fumbles in 13 games as a sophomore in 2019.
On an episode of The Draft Show on DallasCowboys.com, NFL analyst Bucky Brooks, who has known Parsons since high school, questioned his maturity and football character and it resulting in inconsistent play on the field. So that has to be a consideration here and a reason he might fall to Dallas.
If Micah Parsons is the Dallas Cowboys choice with the 10th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, it likely means either Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch’s days are numbered in Dallas. If Parsons can live up to the tremendous hype, he could be the Cowboys’ defensive centerpiece for the next decade. If not, he might end up being the next Jaylon Smith.