Over the past three seasons Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has enjoyed celebrity status in Dallas. The former Super Bowl head coach transformed a fledging defense under Mike Nolan into a one of the NFL’s best, almost overnight.
Leading the NFL in turnovers for two consecutive seasons was said to be impossible, yet Quinn achieved it in 2021 and 2022. He was able to lure veteran players into rotational roles. Dallas retained up-and-comers on affordable deals. Quinn moved players to new roles and positions with shocking success. His proficiency in Dallas has earned him top status around the NFL. He’s been an annual name on head coaching interview lists each offseason and each season the Cowboys have felt generally blessed to somehow retain him.
That might change in 2024.
Upheaval is expected following the Cowboys’ 48-32 loss to the Packers in the wild card round of the playoffs. Dallas was humiliated at home and Quinn’s defense played a significant role in that loss. He’s already been linked to vacancies around the NFL and given his tenuous status in Dallas, may see 2024 as the perfect time to jump ship.
But Quinn is a player’s coach. His guys love him and based on the players who’ve come to Dallas to work with him over the years, his players also follow him. So, if/when Quinn leaves the Cowboys, who can be expected to follow him out of town?
Dante Fowler (DE)
Fowler came to Dallas to play with Quinn and if he’s given a chance, he’ll likely leave Dallas to play with Quinn. The former No. 3 overall pick of the Jaguars has been one of the Cowboys top pass rushers in the DE rotation under Quinn.
The Cowboys have agreed to a deal with Dante Fowler, per sources. Reunites with Dan Quinn, who signed him in Atlanta in 2020. Former No 3 overall pick in 2016 with Jacksonville, he has 35 sacks for his career.
— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) March 18, 2022
Set to hit free agency this offseason, the 29-year-old Fowler is free to pursue opportunities making him a likely loss this offseason. Given his history with Quinn and relatively low pay demands, he’s likely to wait to see what opportunities Quinn finds.
Jourdan Lewis, CB
Jourdan Lewis is one of Quinn’s favorite players on the Cowboys roster. Quinn has repeatedly discussed Lewis unprompted and regards Lewis as one of his smartest and toughest players on his defense.
At 28, Lewis still has good football ahead of him. He bounced back from a career threatening injury in 2022 and was playing some of his best ball in years, before Dallas’ season came to an abrupt end.
Cowboys DC Dan Quinn on CB Jourdan Lewis (foot) being out for the year: "He really represents all the stuff I love about our defense. He's tough. He's smart. He's a dog-ass competitor. He brings it. He's a great teammate. He will be missed. That's a hard one for us to deal with."
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 24, 2022
The Cowboys will need to tighten their belts in 2024 as contracts come due and superstars seek super salaries. Replacing Lewis with a player on a rookie contract may not be ideal but it’s financially prudent.
Lewis is a culture guy and that holds special value for a coach trying to make an immediate impact in a locker room.
Jayron Kearse, SAF
Quinn pulled a rabbit out of a hat when he took a fringe roster player like Kearse and turned him into his multi-tool starter in his top-ranked defense. Quinn saw Kearse as a versatile safety who could play a LB role and the transition worked to perfection.
As a box player, Kearse could man up against TEs and slot players and execute his run fits against RBs with equal efficiency. Kearse instantly took on a leadership role on defense and became one of Quinn’s top guys on the field and in the locker room.
How valuable was Jayron Kearse for the #Cowboys? Not only was he their top SAF but per @PFF he took 215 snaps at slot, 54 at boundary CB, 32 on ST & 176 on D-Line, while finishing top-5 in the NFL in MTkl% He was Dan Quinn’s “Master Key” on defense #DC4L pic.twitter.com/7ZxC3pa5C3
— Reid D Hanson (@ReidDHanson) January 29, 2022
2023 was a noticeably down year for Kearse and he’s set to hit free agency again in March. With Donovan Wilson and Malik Hooker already under contract, the Cowboys probably let Kearse leave uncontested.
But even coming off a poor season, Kearse would be an enormous culture player Quinn would love to take into whatever locker room he takes over.