While the Dallas Cowboys free agency needs at linebacker may not be as high as at cornerback, safety or defensive line, it’s still a priority this offseason. The Cowboys have seen some movement in NFL Free Agency so far, with the most relevant departure being linebacker Joe Thomas.
With Thomas gone and a shift back to a three-linebacker scheme, Dallas has some needs at the position. The Cowboys have Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith locked in for the 2021 season at two spots.
Here are a handful of linebacker free agents who could fit either the strong side position or versatile-backup role for the Cowboys.
Cowboys Linebacker Free Agent Targets
After 10 seasons playing in Seattle, Wright is hitting the free agent market after a bit of a down year for the Seahawks. The 2020 campaign was Wright’s first to start all 16 games and not record 100 tackles. That could work in Dallas’ favor when it comes to the soon-to-be 32-year-old’s asking price. The veteran has played a few roles in Seattle, but most recently filled the strong-side position in the same system they’ve runs since Dan Quinn was on the staff. He could jump right into that role in Quinn’s scheme while also providing the veteran presence that Sean Lee has offered for so long.
Like Wright, Anzalone is a versatile piece that has seen time as a strong and weak-side player. That flexibility would be extremely valuable for the Cowboys, given Joe Thomas was a similar player. The four-year backer out of Florida could start on the strong side or back up multiple positions. Anzalone won’t be 27 until the season begins and may be looking for a longer-term commitment than some of the others on this list. Still, I don’t expect that price to be out of Dallas’ range, especially if they believe he can start on the strong side. Anzalone will also be an active participant on special teams.
Anderson never lived up to his draft slot coming out of Alabama. He only started four games in Washington, while being blocked by players like Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, and Montez Sweat. Still, when drafted, Anderson was a strong-side player who was excellent at taking on blocks and shedding them to make plays against the run. That’s what Dallas is looking for on the strong side. Although, Anderson played in a different scheme in college and his first three years in Washington. He may need to trim down to increase his range at the position, but I’m not sure that should deter Dallas from going after him to compete for the role. Anderson should be an affordable option for the Cowboys.
That’s right, a reunion between Wilson and the Cowboys would be a good match. Wilson started for Dallas as a strong-side option before departing to Kansas City, where he started 35 games in two seasons in which the Chiefs reached the Super Bowl twice. The former-Super Bowl Champion will be 28 in a few months. He could be looking for a slightly larger contract than Dallas is willing to dish out, as well as a more every-down role than the strong-side position entails. Still, if the market dictates that this is his best opportunity, I think it would be a great fit. It’s also important to point out that before starting for Dallas on the strong side, he was a versatile backup and showed that versatility in Kansas City as well.
I had to include a player like Gerry for a good reason. We have heard speculation that Jaylon Smith was a possible cap casualty, dating back to the second half of the season. Dallas is also going to be strapped with a tough decision over the next month and a half about whether or not to exercise Leighton Vander Esch’s fifth-year option. With that in mind, both could conceivably be in a prove-it scenario this season.
I say that to get to this; there is debate on whether or not the pair will fit Dan Quinn’s preferred system. In Seattle, Quinn dealt with linebackers that had similar size to Smith and Vander Esch. However, when he took over in Atlanta, the first thing he did was overhaul the linebacker corps with quicker, undersized players, ala Gerry. I believe Smith and Vander Esch will get a legitimate chance to prove that they are fits in Quinn’s defense in 2021. However, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a guy like Gerry brought in as insurance to the contrary. At 6-2, 230 pounds, he fits what Quinn wanted in Atlanta. As he did in Philadelphia, he could offer versatile depth while possibly competing for a starting job in 2022 if Dallas moves on from Smith or Vander Esch.