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The Cowboys need to prioritize defensive tackle, could Andrew Billings be the right fit?
[The Cowboys have a long list of their own free agents to consider but reality is that several will not return. In this series, we’ll look at the many free agents set to hit the open market in 2020 and if any of those might be of interest to the Cowboys. Below is a list of profiles from this series:]
Andrew Billings was drafted by the Bengals in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was listed on the Cowboys draft board, given a fourth-round grade. At Baylor, Billings won the Big-12’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year as well as the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Year award.
Billings suffered a season-ending knee injury at training camp of his rookie season and would make his debut in 2017. He competed for and won the backup defensive tackle position to Pat Sims in his second-year. He would play 15 games as a backup and recorded 13 tackles, two TFL’s, and a QB hit. The following season, Billings would become the starting nose tackle for the Bengals. Though the team was 6-10 in 2018, Billings managed to start all 16 games, recording 32 tackles, eight TFL’s, seven QB hits, and 2.5 sacks.
This past season, the Bengals were dreadful once again at 2-14 but have secured the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Billings started 14 games this season, recording 35 tackles, four TFL’s, four QB hits, and a sack.
In the last regime, under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys have never valued the nose tackle position. Perhaps that may change under new defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan. It is about as thankless of a job in the NFL as you’re going to find but a good nose tackle can be invaluable. Sure, the sack numbers are never going to be great but a solid one-technique upgrades your run defense exponentially. The Cowboys have half of their defensive line hitting free agency this offseason, that includes Maliek Collins and Christian Covington. Surely, Jim Tomsula, the new DL position coach will want some power added on the inside of this Cowboys defense.
Andrew Billings is the type of defensive tackle you want at the nose tackle position. Though Billings is barely over six feet, he’s got size at 328 lbs. He put up decent testing numbers at the combine, showing some plus agility for a big man and 33’’ arms. He does a nice job of taking up space in run defense as that “coke machine with arms” type of interior defender. Billings is still very young at 24 and out of all the free agent defensive tackles, he played the second-highest number of snaps at 61.2%. He may not show up in the stat sheet as a sack monster but his job is to wreck rushing lanes, something that the Cowboys really need. In the past two seasons, teams have battered the Cowboys between the tackles. It was the culprit in their divisional round loss in 2018 to the Rams and it hurt them in several games this past season.
It’s time for the Cowboys to beef up their defensive line to give guys like DeMarcus Lawrence some help from the inside. Andrew Billings’ market value will not be outlandish and he should land an inexpensive two-year deal in the range of $4.5-5.5M per year. If the Cowboys are priced out of the major DT market, this would be a good consolation prize for their defense.