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Cowboys Free Agent Spotlight: Geno Atkins

After spending a decade with the team, drafted in 1st round in 2010, defensive tackle Geno Atkins was released by the Cincinnati Bengals. This wasn’t a surprising move since the team is in the middle of a rebuild, one in which they parted with another long-time star AJ Green. 

Atkins injured his shoulder during training camp last season and returned in week 5. However, he appeared in just over 100 snaps during the 8 game stretch he played before being placed on IR to end the season due to the same nagging shoulder injury. He’s now 32 years old and by releasing him, the Bengals freed up nearly $10M in cap space. 

Although the lack of play and the injury that he wasn’t able to put past him, this may be the perfect signing for the Cowboys who have been searching for a strong interior presence along the defensive line for several years now. Looking past the 2020 season, Atkins has put up some impressive seasons despite playing on a struggling team with lackluster talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In 2017 he posted a PFF grade of 90.7, an 81.8 in 2018, and a 76.2 in 2019. 

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That’s obviously a number not going in the right direction; however, it’s still a significant improvement over the Cowboys defensive tackles. Let’s take a look at the PFF scores of the Cowboys defensive tackles over the past couple of years.

Player2019 PFF2020 PFF 
Trysten Hill57.133.8
Tyrone Crawford53.452.6
Antwaun Woods56.858.3
Dontari Poe71.1 (w/ Car)55.9
Neville GallimoreN/A52.1

The only year that comes somewhat close to one of Geno Atkins’ years is Dontari Poe in 2019 when he wasn’t even on the Cowboys. The other thing to consider is that Atkins has never really played on a line next to other superior pass rushers. In Dallas, he won’t be the center of attention thanks to Demarcus Lawrence and teams would have to strongly consider where to help with double teams.

It’s very possible that if the Cowboys had production from their defensive tackles even remotely close to what Atkins has been able to bring, they would have probably beat the Rams in the 2018 playoffs, went to the NFC championship against the Saints, and would have been in position to answer their rival Eagles’ Super Bowl win the year prior with a ring of their own. 

What should be very intriguing to the Cowboys front office about this available free agent is that Atkins can be a 2-for-1 signing. Obviously, adding a 300-pound tackle in the heart of their line can assist in their troubles against the run, but Atkins is even better known for his pass rush skills. After the news that the Cowboys are not interested in re-signing Aldon Smith, who shockingly played in 73.01% of the total defensive snaps last season, it seems a given that they have to add at least two defensive linemen in this year’s draft.

Atkins would be a valuable addition since it could help their run defense by putting less stress on their second level linebackers who have been accustomed to being in a position to make first contact with opposing running backs and it could set up more one on one matchups for Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence pass rushing off the edge. As they’ve seen first-hand against the Eagles for several years now, being able to bring pressure from the inside the way Fletcher Cox has been able to, blows up a play completely. Interior pass rush decimates the pocket and flushes the quarterback out and allows the defensive ends to feast. 

Obviously, Geno Atkins at the age of 32 won’t bring you the level of disruption that would equate to the play of a Fletcher Cox, but if he can be used rotationally he could flash plays like the ones he made for the Bengals for most of the past decade. As mentioned earlier, the Cowboys could have been in the same position to use Aldon Smith the same one but they did not have the discipline necessary to keep him fresh down the stretch, mainly due to having no depth along the line. By combining the signing of Atkins with a couple of additions via the draft, new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn could utilize a true rotation along the line. 

As per Over the Cap, the Cowboys still have just over $8.2M in cap space. They need space available to sign draft picks, but this does give them some room to add Atkins and a multi-year deal could allow them to spread the cap hit out over some years. If Geno Atkins doesn’t produce and the Cowboys cut him next season, the dead cap hit would impact them next year when the cap will definitely increase to close to, if not over $200M as it recovers from the stagnation effects of Covid. 

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