American Football

The Stephon Gilmore trade is already proving to be a smart move for the Cowboys


NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This move has all the makings in helping the Cowboys defense reach an elite level.

The Dallas Cowboys have a great defense. That’s a funny thing to say out loud because for many years subpar-to-dreadful play from the defense has haunted this team and reared its ugly head at very inopportune times. And we are not that far removed from watching a Mike Nolan-led unit surrender a franchise-record 473 points back in 2020.

Of course, that’s old news because the Cowboys have Dan Quinn now. In almost an instant, the defense went from bad to very good. The Cowboys’ defense allowed the seventh-fewest points in the league in Quinn’s first year as defensive coordinator and finished in the top five last year. They have finished with the second-best defensive DVOA in each of Quinn’s two seasons with Dallas.

This season will be Quinn’s third season with the Cowboys and each year they keep adding new defensive weaponry. Starting with edge rusher extraordinaire Micah Parsons, the team is armed with many young draft picks that also include Osa Odighizuwa, DaRon Bland, Mazi Smith, Damone Clark, Chauncey Golston, Israel Mukuamu, and DeMarvion Overshown. The team has also acquired and then re-signed veteran free agents like Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, Dante Fowler, and Johnathan Hankins. Add those guys to a few pre-existing playmakers like DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs, and Donovan Wilson, and suddenly you have a very deep and talented defense.

Oddly enough, the team’s most decorated defensive addition is former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. The Cowboys traded for Gilmore this offseason to give them a reliable outside corner opposite Diggs. Gilmore is a five-time Pro Bowler as well as earning All-Pro honors twice. And despite being on the north side of 30, he’s a player who is showing very little signs of slowing down. Four of his Pro Bowl seasons have occurred over the past five years. And last year, Pro Football Focus had him graded out as the sixth-best coverage corner, and nine-best overall.

While Gilmore won’t be a sprightly athletic phenom in the secondary, his high intelligence and excellent fundamentals should continue to make him a force on the outside. He is a cerebral player and his knowledge and experience give him a strong feel for route concepts. The game moves slowly for him and he knows what quarterbacks are looking to do before the play even develops. He lurks, he waits, and he pounces.

The fit is perfect with this defense as Quinn loves to run multiple sets and disguise things up quite a bit. This is right up Gilmore’s alley as his sneakiness and high football IQ will allow him to do what he does best, read and react. He wasted no time showcasing his top-level instincts at Cowboys minicamp last week as he jumped a route and broke up a pass from Dak Prescott in the red zone.

Last season, the 32-year-old corner had to square off against the opposing team’s top receiver and he still rated out as one of the stronger corners in the league. With Diggs on the other side, offenses will have a hard time picking a side to attack. And speaking of Diggs, having such an experienced veteran like Gilmore in the locker room will only further develop his understanding of the position. Gilmore is already making his presence felt in the locker room and Diggs is already praising him.

“He’s so smart and so ball-savvy like he’s walking on water since he makes it look so easy. I want to learn how to do that and take my game to the next level.”

Adding Gilmore’s on-field ability is a boost in itself, but throwing in his veteran mentorship to bring out the best in a player like Diggs is just icing on the cake. This added strength on the outside should give the Cowboys one of the best cornerback tandems in the league and help this defense reach an elite level.

PFF has both the Cowboys corners ranked in the top 5 in the NFC.

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