The Dallas Cowboys had some tough decisions to make in the 2018 NFL free agent class. For one thing, they have to decide what to do with wide receiver Dez Bryant after the wideout has dropped in production since signing his new deal with the Cowboys. On the defensive side of the ball, Dallas had to decide what to do with a number of defensive starters. One of those top defensive stars has decided to leave the Cowboys for another team when it became evident that Dallas was not able to match market value. ESPN reports that the Kansas City Chiefs have reached a deal to sign Anthony Hitchens to a contract paying $9 million a season when NFL free agency starts on Wednesday.
Anthony Hitchens Value To Dallas Cowboys
Anthony Hitchens was a bright spot on a defense that struggled at times in 2017. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Hitchens in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and developed him into one of the better linebackers in the game.
In 2017, Hitchens played in 12 games and finished with 84 total tackles. The four missed games came when the season started and was due to a knee injury suffered in the preseason. He also had two pass deflections, nine tackles for a loss, five quarterback pressures, and forced a fumble.
Despite only playing in 12 games in 2017, it was still his best tackle season. The 84 tackles were more than any season, despite playing every game for the Dallas Cowboys in his first three seasons. He has a total of 193 tackles but only 3.5 sacks in his NFL career.
Hitchens was an important part of the Dallas Cowboys defense. However, with little money to spend right now in NFL free agency, the Cowboys weren’t willing to match the $9 million a season that the Kansas City Chiefs will pay the linebacker.
Who Will Replace Hitchens in Dallas?
With Anthony Hitchens gone, the Dallas Cowboys have a massive hole in their defense to fill. The team still has its top linebacker in Sean Lee, but with Lee getting up there in years, it was Hitchens who many fans thought was the future for Dallas at linebacker. That future is gone now, and the options to replace him are questionable at best.
Jaylon Smith was a Dallas Cowboys draft pick from 2016 that the team chose despite knowing he would not be able to play in his rookie season. Smith suffered a knee injury in his final game with Notre Dame and ended up with nerve damage. Dallas knew that the pick was risky but could pay huge dividends if Smith returned to the elite level he played at before his injury.
Smith finally took the field for Dallas in 2017 and finished with 99 tackles and a sack. He also forced two fumbles and was credited with four quarterback pressures. However, fans seemed to get down on Smith due to lapses in coverage, something that he needed time to get used to at the pro level.
Jerry Jones told ESPN at the NFL scouting combine that Jaylon Smith reminds him of Michael Irvin when it comes to the drive and work ethic to recover from injuries and become elite players. Smith will have a chance to prove that this season.
However, the Dallas Cowboys are likely to draft a top linebacker in early rounds in the 2018 NFL Draft, in case Jaylon Smith falters in his third NFL season. Either way, Anthony Hitchens leaves big shoes to fill.