On the roster: DeMarcus Lawrence (signed through 2018), David Irving (signed through 2018), Tyrone Crawford (signed through 2020), Maliek Collins (signed through 2019), Kony Ealy (signed through 2018), Taco Charlton (signed through 2020), Lewis Neal (signed through 2019), Daniel Ross (signed through 2018), Datone Jones (signed through 2018), Richard Ash (signed through 2018), Brian Price (signed through 2019).
Analysis: The Cowboys have built their offensive line with first-round picks in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. They have tried to do the same with their defensive line with Lawrence, Charlton, Crawford and Collins picked in the first three rounds.
Lawrence had his breakout season in 2017 when he had 14.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl. He is set to play the season on the franchise tag at a cost of $17.1 million but the Cowboys have until July 16 to sign him to a long-term deal. Irving signed his restricted-free-agent tender last week after putting up seven sacks in eight games in 2017. He is looking to cash in on a big season as he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
Crawford is a valuable part of the defense with his versatility, and catches too much grief from some segments. He is solid, dependable and willing to play through injury as a leader on defense. Collins was forced to move from the under-tackle spot to nose tackle last season because of injury. His best spot is still likely as the under tackle but the Cowboys feel comfortable with him at either spot.
Charlton had only three sacks as a rookie, but the first-round pick was more active in the final month of the season. At Michigan his production increased each year and the Cowboys hope he can do the same with them.
Randy Gregory, a second-round pick in 2015, is eligible to apply for reinstatement after missing last season and Jerry Jones said he is hopeful Gregory can play in 2018. What can the Cowboys expect? He has missed all but two of the last 32 regular-season games and has one sack. But Gregory’s talent is too much to give up on, according to Jones.
Draft need: There is always a need for defensive-line help with the way defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes to work his group during the season.
Marinelli believes in a defensive-line rotation of eight or nine that can keep his players fresh and attacking the quarterback for four quarters. Lawrence is the “war daddy” that Jerry Jones has craved since DeMarcus Ware’s departure, but there is no guarantee he is a Cowboy beyond this season. A second franchise tag would cost upwards of $20 million and likely lead to Irving being out of their financial reach.
The Cowboys have a need for a nose tackle. It’s not Collins’ best position. Price is coming back from a knee injury. But the Cowboys do not place early-round importance on the spot. Vita Vea might be a nose tackle to some but the Cowboys see him as an under-tackle with his athleticism. If they take a nose tackle, it will be in the middle rounds.
Possible picks: Boston College’s Harold Landry, Florida’s Taven Bryan, Washington’s Vita Vea, Alabama’s Da'Ron Payne, Ole Miss’ Breeland Speaks, LSU’s Arden Key, Fort Hays’ Nathan Shepherd, Sam Houston State’s P.J. Hall
Prediction: The Cowboys have selected at least one defensive lineman in five of the last six drafts. They will make it six out of seven. The Cowboys have to think about the future as well. Seven of the 13 defensive linemen on their roster have contracts that expire in 2018, with four set to become unrestricted free agents.