NFL free agency doesn't begin until Wednesday, but there are a lot of deals being worked out in advance.
On Monday, news broke that linebacker Anthony Hitchens is set to sign a long-term deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. That means addressing the linebacker position becomes a major priority for the Dallas Cowboys.
If Jaylon Smith moves to the outside, the organization will need to add another inside backer. They might also be looking for a weakside option depending on how the personnel lines up.
Free agency and the new league year begin at 3 p.m. CST Wednesday. However, the league allowed teams to contact and begin contract negotitations on Monday.
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Traditionally, teams can find value at the position in the second or third rounds of the draft. But this year, the position is heavy with first-round talent and less certain beyond that. When you take those two points into consideration, it's possible that owner and general manager Jerry Jones could swing for a big playmaker to man the middle of his team's defense at pick No. 19 or higher.
Here are some potential inside and weak-side linebacker targets in the draft: The rankings are based on Sports Illustrated's Top 100-ranked prospects:
10. Roquan Smith, Georgia, Height: 6 feet, 7⁄8 inches. Weight: 236 pounds
In his first mock draft, the Star-Telegram's Drew Davison had the Cowboys trading up to acquire the first-team All-American. As Davison points out, moving up nine spots to nab a near-consensus player would likely cost an additional second-round pick (maybe more). And yes, Smith is a tad undersized.
But if you watch his tape, particularly in the Dawgs' two 2018 CFB Playoff games, you will see a hyper-competitive tackling machine who could anchor the Cowboys defense for a decade.
14. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech, Height: 6 feet, 4 1⁄2 inches. Weight: 253 pounds
Edmunds doesn't quite have Smith's killer instinct. His skill-set and physical traits, though, provide a potentially higher ceiling. He can even get after the quarterback and mark tight ends in pass-coverage. The only knock on the Virginia Tech product is that he's a little bit raw overall.
The hope would be Marinelli and the rest of his staff would be able to maximize his tremendous potential. Similar to the situation with Smith, Dallas would almost certainly have to give-up a lot to move-up and draft him.
23. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State,Height: 6 feet, 4 1/4 inches. Weight: 256 pounds
If the Cowboys can't add via free-agency, and decide to keep Jaylon Smith on the inside, Vander Esch should be a solid Hitchens' replacement. One that likely be available if the Cowboys stay at No. 19.
Here's Sports Illustrated's breakdown: ."..raw athleticism and speed to be a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine, Vander Esch needs to fill out his frame a bit more, but he could step in as an immediate starter as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB."
26. Rashaan Evans, Alabama, Height: 6 feet 1 7/8 inches. Weight: 232 pounds
Evans, like Vander Esch, is a quality talent that would also likely serve as a nice consolation price to the draft's top top linebacker choices. And like Vander Esch, Evans' role would more than likely be on the outside.
According to SI, he isn't nearly as reliable in pass-coverage. And while Evans might not have the same pedigree as fellow Crimson Tide alumni such as D'onta Hightower or C.J. Mosley (amongst others), he did improve his production every year he was in Tuscaloosa.
69. Darius Leonard, South Carolina State, Height: 6 feet, 2 inches. Weight: 234 pounds
The Cowboys currently are picking at No. 81 in the third round, but could easily utilize one of their fourth or fifth-round compensatory picks to move up if they think a player such as Leonard is worth it.
On the plus side, Leonard enjoyed a wildly productive college career, compiling almost 240 tackles his junior and senior seasons. The concern is that he might take a year to make the leap from FBS to NFL-caliber competition.
76. Malik Jefferson, Texas, Height: 6 feet, 2 1/4 inches. Weight: 236 pounds
Jefferson is another weak-side linebacker candidate who has the potential to develop into a quality NFL starter. Like Leonard, the Cowboys would have an easier time making sure they were in position to grab him.
The Mesquite native has seen has stock fall substantially in the past 18 or so months due to a combination of his injury history and concerns about his on-the-field awareness. Yet, his outstanding physical tools and potential to grow into a role over time could make Jefferson a mid-round steal.