There's no way around it -- the Dallas Cowboys just suffered a massive blow by way of the injury to Gerald McCoy. The three-time All-Pro defensive lineman won't get a chance to play a single snap for the club in his first year, after leaving the team's first padded practice halfway through with that was determined to be a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. The injury will require season-ending surgery and as McCoy readies to head to injured reserve, the Cowboys begin trying to figure out how to replace what would've been his sizable snap count and potential production, but there's a silver lining to this very dark cumulus could.
It's the fact that, while Mike McCarthy didn't plan for this specific injury, he did have the foresight to plan for it in general -- by convincing the Cowboys to orchestrate one of their best free agency and NFL draft runs in recent memory.
This offseason, they not only signed McCoy to a three-year deal, but were also able to acquire Dontari Poe, a now-reinstated Aldon Smith ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft, following those moves up with the selection of third-round pick Neville Gallimore and fifth-round pick Bradlee Anae. They weren't done there, however, going on to sign Everson Griffen just ahead of the first padded practice, and there's still a ton of hope the league will soon reinstate Randy Gregory, the latter having seen his application for reinstatement stalled by questionable bureaucratic issues that are supposedly rooted in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But that's not all, because this only lists the new additions and/or talent returning from suspension.
There's also the matter of Tyrone Crawford, now fully recovered from hip surgery, and a player the Cowboys already had big plans for in 2020. While the initial plan was to have Crawford operate more on the right edge opposite DeMarcus Lawrence -- yet another All-Pro on the Cowboys defensive line -- he's also spent more than his fair share of time at 3-tech, and now becomes the incumbent starter until further notice. And with McCoy sidelined, former second-round pick Trysten Hill will get a lot of playing time going forward, as he tries to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 rookie season and make a name for himself under a much less forgiving regime of McCarthy, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
If ever there was a time for Hill to step up, it's right now.
For those wondering if the team will suddenly turn and grab Damon "Snacks" Harrison, a source tells CBS Sports if they were to make that call, it wouldn't be because they've lost McCoy. Why? Well, simply put, a 1-tech isn't a 3-tech. And, to that end, the Cowboys love what they have at nose tackle. Additionally, the team still has no interest whatsoever in Jadeveon Clowney at anything near his current asking price, separate sources continue to affirm -- which is why they signed Griffen instead.
Now where was I?
Oh yes, the Cowboys are enjoying an embarrassing amount of depth throughout their defensive front, in a year that looks precipitously different than the ones driven by Jason Garrett. The team has already admitted players like Poe and McCoy would likely not be on the team if Garrett and former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli were still around, because it's "not what they ordered" over the past several seasons. And because of the new acquisitions, those who would've normally been starters are now backups -- e.g. Antwaun Woods, who finally signed his exclusive rights free agent tender just ahead of camp. Truth be told, the Cowboys [still] have such a logjam of talent on the defensive line that Woods has to battle with Gallimore for the right to back up Poe, just as Dorance Armstrong must fend off Anae and second-year talent Joe Jackson for the right to do the same behind Lawrence.
Also, Gallimore can flex from 1-tech to 3-tech, and heralded undrafted rookie Ron'Dell Carter has also proven he can bully quarterbacks from that role. Carter received calls from 25 NFL teams immediately following the draft before choosing the Cowboys, and the former JMU star pass rusher joins the team having delivered 12 sacks in 2019 along with 27 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound rookie will also come in handy when the Cowboys change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme in-game, in a hybrid system promised and currently being constructed by Nolan.
And it's that very hybrid system that also lessens the blow of losing McCoy, because it takes a body off of the defensive line anyway, and adds it to the linebacker or secondary unit. And speaking of linebackers, the move to switch the roles of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith -- putting the latter at WILL (weakside) -- will now seem like a master stroke of clairvoyance by the coaching staff, because Smith will be tasked much more than ever with using his speed and explosiveness to assist the pass rush as needed. Oh, and Sean Lee is coming off of one of his best seasons ever as a pro, and certainly one of his most durable.
Literally speaking, all of this plays a part for the Cowboys in how they'll move forward without McCoy.
From the list of big name acquisitions to talent returning for them in 2020 to linebacker role swaps to the hybrid scheme everyone will now operate under, there's nothing that indicates the loss of McCoy will somehow make the sky fall in Dallas. In years prior, yes, but their roster vest is much more bulletproof in 2020, thanks to the foresight of a Super Bowl-winning head coach and his staff.
They'll feel the sting, sure, but there's no need to dial 911.