Final Exam: Cowboys must rebuild D-line

Let’s start with the disclaimer that the Dallas Cowboys need talent across the board after failing to make the playoffs for four straight seasons.

If there is a guy on the board who is clearly the best available player, they need to pick him, regardless of position. If they stuck to that simple theory, NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy would have a star on his helmet and the Cowboys’ 2009 draft class wouldn’t be considered one of the biggest disasters of Jerry Jones’ GM tenure.

That being said, defensive line is obviously the Cowboys’ top position priority in this draft.

That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. Director of player personnel Stephen Jones is on record saying that rebuilding the defensive line ranks at the top of the Cowboys’ offseason to-do list.

The Cowboys were foolish not to address the defensive line at all in last year’s draft, when Jerry infamously described the unit as one of the team’s strengths. Dallas ended up practically picking up day laborers to join the defensive line rotation on a weekly basis, using a total of 20 defensive tackles and ends during the season.

The front office couldn’t possibly foresee all the injuries that hit the defensive line, but a quick glance at the age of the projected starting front four should have been a red flag.

There is a decent chance that all four of those guys will be gone next season. Jay Ratliff already had an acrimonious departure. The Cowboys will have a difficult decision to make with DeMarcus Ware, who is coming off the least productive season of his career, unless he agrees to a significant pay cut. Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer are free agents, the former coming off a career year that will probably put him out of the Cowboys’ price range, and the latter recovering from microfracture surgery after playing in only one game last season.

No matter what happens with Ware and the free agents, the Cowboys must start building a defensive line for the future, much like what they’ve done with the offensive line over the past few years. They’re confident Tyrone Crawford, who spent his second NFL season on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles tendon during this summer’s training camp, can be a key cog at end or tackle. George Selvie is a bargain-priced piece, but has only one season remaining on his contract.

The Carolina Panthers reaped the benefits of drafting defensive linemen in the first two rounds last year. It’s not sexy, but that wouldn’t be a bad strategy at all for the Cowboys, depending on the value of the players available.