Solution Required: Cowboys needs at defensive tackle grow by the day

When the 2024 offseason began, the Cowboys knew they had an issue in the middle of their defensive line. Troubles inside frequently seeped into the second level of the Dallas defense. Offensive linemen paved the way as opposing attacks ran rampant through the Cowboys’ notoriously thin LB corps.

To many, upgrading the middle was priority No. 1 on the defense this offseason. Outside of Johnathan Hankins, the Cowboys lacked stoutness inside. To make matters worse, Mazi Smith who was their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft, inexplicably slimed down prior to the season, resulting in more of a 3-tech role than a 1-tech role. Hankins was the best of the bunch at 1-tech, but he was clearly miscast as a starter and was better suited to play a rotational role behind someone, not leading the unit.

The Cowboys weren’t the only team needing an upgrade at 1-tech this offseason. An otherwise deep free agent class was picked clean at the opening bell, leaving very few options available today.

The Cowboys, always the patient buyers, now find themselves moving in the wrong direction at DT. Instead of upgrading in front of Hankins on the depth chart like so many pleaded all offseason, the Cowboys managed to lose Hankins entirely. Now they find themselves in the unfortunate position of needing not just one 1-tech DT, but two 1-tech DTs.

With Mike Zimmer running the defense in 2024, Smith could very well be asked to put weight back on and move back to a role he was more familiar with in college. But expectations should be set realistically for the second-year defender. Smith had arguably the most disappointing rookie season since Bobby Carpenter and anything more than a supportive role for Smith in 2024 is far-fetched.

Hankins-level players still appear to be on the free agent market, but options are drying up fast. Besides, the goal was to upgrade the interior, not replace it with similar talent. If the Cowboys want to see improved box play from their LBs and SAFs, they need stouter play on their line. At this point it doesn’t appear possible.

Free agency isn’t over and the draft remains, so all hope isn’t lost. But with major holes at OT, OC, LB and RB already, it’s hard to envision a way the Cowboys adequately fill all of their many starting roles between now and training camp.

Hankins wasn’t a player who absolutely had to be re-signed but the 1-tech DT position group was a group that absolutely had to be upgraded. That’s looking less and less possible by the day.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire