FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys filled two of their biggest needs this offseason, plugging their voids at No. 2 wide receiver and No. 2 cornerback next to Pro Bowl wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs with Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore. The glaring hole next to Lamb after Amari Cooper was traded to the Cleveland Browns received plenty of justified coverage, but Gilmore coming over in a trade from the Indianapolis Colts this offseason could have just as much, if not more, of an impact on Diggs and the Cowboys defense. Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowler, has fit right in on his fifth team in 12 NFL seasons thanks to joining Dallas' vaunted defensive unit that has led the league in takeaways in each of the last two seasons.
"Yeah, I'm just trying to come in and teach the guys as much as I can and be the player that I know I can be" Gilmore said Wednesday after practice. "Just trying to take it a day at a time and build a relationship with the guys and be comfortable in the scheme. Take it a day at a time and get better as a team and the brotherhood that we have here."
Most of Dallas' defensive starters have been on the team for each of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's two seasons running their unit since 2021. Even though Gilmore is a new addition, his teammates have felt that he fits right in.
"Definitely, it takes us to a whole new level of understanding one another," Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said Wednesday after practice when asked about being in Year 3 under Quinn. "I feel like I understand Micah [Parsons]. I feel like I understand Tre[von Diggs].Even though Gilly just got here, he just fit right in and gelled with us .I feel like I understand him and the type of man he is, the type of player he is and it goes like that down the line with a lot of these guys. Just being together for so long and hanging out with each other for these past three years and meeting these other families and things like that...So when we get on the field, it's more than just I'm playing with my teammates. We look at it as we're playing with our brothers."
Overall, the Cowboys' defense was great in 2022, ranking fifth in the NFL in scoring defense (20.1 points allowed per game) and eighth in passing defense (200.9 passing yards per game). However, there's a clear need for him and his 81.1 Pro Football Focus coverage grade that was the ninth-highest among NFL corners in 2022 to make the secondary better. Dallas and Diggs thrived in zone coverage last season, allowing the lowest passer rating in the NFL when running zone (74.8). However, the unit allowed the second-highest passer rating in the entire league in man coverage (119.4), barely ahead of the NFL-worst 119.5 passer rating allowed in man by the Carolina Panthers.
Cowboys pass defense by coverage
2022 season, NFL ranks
Passing Touchdowns Allowed
Passer Rating Allowed
* The Cowboys ran zone coverage on 69% of coverage snaps (18th-highest rate in NFL), man coverage on 27.2% of coverage snaps (9th-highest rate in NFL)
"I think I can still play if you watch the film from last year, you'll see it," Gilmorein May. "Last year is last year, each year you have to turn the page and prove yourself every year, that's how I look at it. You go through things [injuries] in your career, and you have to fight through it. I feel good now running around, this is the best I've felt in the last two, three years. I'm looking forward to this season and making plays like I normally do."
Given the clear areas of improvement required, Diggs, who has been more known for racking up interceptions than consistency in coverage early on in his three-year career, has smartly leaned on Gilmore's football IQ this offseason.
"I talk to him [Stephon Gilmore] a lot," Diggsin May. "I've been talking to him since I got in the league, always asking him questions since I first started. Now I got him on my team, so I can bug him right there. [The main things we talk about now are] how to stay consistent and how to slow the game down more because he plays in slow-motion, but it's really fast. He's so smart and so ball-savvy like he's walking on water since he makes it look so easy. I want to learn how to do that and take my game to the next level."
The Cowboys defense other First-Team All-Pro selection, linebacker Micah Parsons -- whose 26.5 sacks in his first two seasons are the sixth-most in a player's first two seasons since since sacks became an official stat in 1982 -- is equally thrilled about the impact playing with Gilmore could have on his game.
"Fundamentally and in communication, I feel like this is the best team and the best defense I've ever been on, and I've been grateful to be on some pretty good defenses since Penn State," Parsons said after practice Wednesday. "Just adding him [Gilmore] was like that extra booster of confidence to the back end communication having a solid guy next to Tre[von Diggs]. I'm predicting a lot of good things from these guys this year and people can't always go away from Diggs. Now, they have to face the music with both of them. I'm kind of happy to have those guys because the lock-in and focus every day, Diggs challenging me every week, it's gonna be a really exciting year. We have to earn those [sack] opportunities by stopping the run first though, but it'll create more sacks. I think we could get a couple more coverage sacks this year."
Quinn raved about the effect the two-time First-Team All-Pro already having on the rest of his young secondary.
"When we [traded for him], I bet I got 10-12 calls or texts saying, 'DQ, this is your kind of guy. You're gonna love this guy.' That told me a lot," Quinn said on June 8 at Cowboys minicamp. "And then in the first interaction, just knowing how hard he works at it and then seeing the connection with [Trevon Diggs] to start and then with some others, that was a big deal for me. (It says), 'Not only do I have all this knowledge, but I'm willing to share that wisdom.' That's a really important thing for coaches to do, but also for veteran ball players to do if they have that ability to share."
There's plenty of excitement to go around for the Dallas defense with Quinn appreciating Gilmore helping teach his young secondary, Diggs thrilled to line up alongside Gilmore, Parsons drooling over how many more sacks the Cowboys pass rush could rack up and Gilmore himself counting down the days until he wears the uniform of his life-long favorite team in the 2023 regular season.
"My whole family is Cowboys fans, so, when they heard the news, we were all excited," Gilmore said. "I was very excited [because] I've been a Cowboys fan all my life, growing up as a kid. My dad, my cousins, I told my uncle I had a surprise for him. He was so excited. ... I'm just looking forward to making plays in this Cowboys uniform. It's going to be fun. It's my first time in a real game playing for the Cowboys. I'm just looking forward to playing the game again. You got to take advantage of all these opportunities because you have loved playing the game ever since I was six, seven years old. So, I'm looking forward to it."
If one of the best cornerbacks of the past decade can make an impact as a high-level No. 2 corner and sage mentor to Diggs, starting with Sunday against Daniel Jones and the Giants, the acquisition of Gilmore could go down as one of the 2023 offseason's best moves.