The Dallas Cowboys suffered their first big setback of free agency Tuesday when linebacker Anthony Hitchens agreeed to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs, according to sources.
It was an expected setback of sorts because the salary-cap-strapped Cowboys were never going to be able to compete financially to keep Hitchens, a former fourth-round pick in 2014 who was looking to make the most of his first chance at a big contract.
Hitchens did well for himself, getting a contract that could be worth $9 million a season, according to reports.
The only surprise is that Hitchens ended up in Kansas City rather than joining former linebackers coach Matt Eberflus, who is the defensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts.
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Most had pegged Hitchens heading to the Colts in free agency because of his relationship with the Eberflus and the Colts’ need for a veteran to help the team make the transition to the 4-3 defense.
Hitchens, a fourth-year starter, compiled 304 tackles and 3.5 sacks in four seasons in Dallas. He was the middle linebacker in Dallas the past two seasons, but has played all three linebacker positions.
But money talks and Hitchens hit the jackpot in Kansas City.
With Hitchens gone, linebacker has become a huge priority for the Cowboys in the draft and free agency. Free agency begins Wednesday. The NFL Draft is April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Sean Lee is set to return to the weakside position, and they have Damien Wilson back at the strong side.
Jaylon Smith, who missed 2017 with a devastating knee injury, manned the middle when Hitchens was injured in 2017, but questions remain as to whether he is ready for a full load. Smith was at his best last season when his play was limited and the Cowboys had expressed interest in using him at strongside linebacker in 2018.
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith would be a dream option if he available when the Cowboys pick 19th overall in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. But he is expected to be long gone.
Perhaps former Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson be an option to fill the gap in the second round.