July 31: McKinley had a “positive visit” with the Cowboys but will not be signing with Dallas at this time, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News (via Twitter). The UCLA product always planned to take multiple visits, and he will now head off to a workout with the Cardinals. Arizona lost Chandler Jones to free agency this offseason, and while the club added two edge defenders in the third round of this year’s draft (Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders), having a more experienced option as part of the rotation may not be a bad idea.
July 30: Two of the top available defensive free agents reportedly took visits today. In two separate tweets ESPN’s Field Yates announced that linebacker Joe Schobert had visited the Broncos and defensive end Takkarist McKinley had tried out for the Cowboys.
Schobert is an experienced linebacker who lined up as a middle linebacker during his tenures with the Browns and Jaguars then gained some experience as an outside linebacker with the Steelers last year. Since he became a full-time starter in his sophomore season, Schobert has been a tackling machine, never failing to amass at least 100 total tackles. During his second season in Cleveland, Schobert even led the league in tackles with 144. He’s shown an ability to get in the backfield over the years, totaling 23.0 tackles for loss, 26 quarterback hits, and 11.0 sacks, and has a propensity for forcing turnovers with 10 interceptions, 30 passes defensed, and 10 forced fumbles over his six-year career.
Denver has been shuffling around it’s linebackers this offseason including moving Baron Browning, who started inside for the Broncos last year, to outside linebacker. It vastly increased the outside linebacker depth behind star Bradley Chubb with the additions of free agent Randy Gregory and rookie second-round pick Nik Bonitto adding to the depth of Browning and Malik Reed, who were already there. Those moves resulted in a bit of a vacuum behind starting inside linebackers Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell. Schobert would be an excellent addition to the inside linebacker depth in Denver, while having the versatility to contribute on the outside if needed, as well.
McKinley is much more of a pass rusher than Schobert, collecting 20.0 sacks, 25.0 tackles for loss, and 53 quarterback hits during a four-year tenure in Atlanta and a year in Cleveland. What’s limited McKinley is that he doesn’t offer much more on defense. He can impose his presence at the line of scrimmage and influence plays, but he doesn’t tend to get to the ball-carrier often, owning a career-high of only 29 total tackles in a season. He’s also shown less of an impact as of late. After recording 13.0 sacks in his first two seasons, McKinley has only tallied 7.0 in the three years since.
McKinley is a former-first round pick of Cowboys defensive coordinator (and former Atlanta head coach) Dan Quinn. The familiarity with Quinn’s system, in which he’s shown the most productivity, could help him land a roster spot. Besides his previous relationship with Quinn, McKinley faces an uphill battle to make the roster as the Cowboys are already fairly stacked at defensive end. Dallas brought in Dante Fowler to start opposite DeMarcus Lawrence and drafted Ole Miss single-season sack record-holder Sam Williams in the second round. McKinley could potentially attempt to provide an improvement above backups Tarell Basham, Dorance Armstrong, and Chauncey Golston, but those three were all with the team last year and will have to be unseated.
Word will likely arrive in the coming days determining if either Schobert or McKinley will get an opportunity with a new team. If not, the two veterans will remain top names to keep track of on the defensive free agent market.