Don’t forget about Damone Clark in Cowboys’ changing linebacker room

From veteran Eric Kendricks to rookie Marist Liufau to the delayed debut of DeMarvion Overshown, the Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker position will look very different in 2024. The one holdover from last year’s group, Damone Clark, is starting to feel like an afterthought. But he shouldn’t be ignored as a potential key contributor to next year’s defense.

Clark, who turns 24 in June, is entering just his third season. A fifth-round pick in 2022 whose stock fell due to spinal fusion surgery that March, Clark didn’t come off injured reserve until midway through his rookie year. But he quickly impressed when on the field, eventually starting five games that season and every game for Dallas last year.

It’s easy to see that Clark was a starter last year and then, with the additions of Kendricks and Liufau, assume he’s not in the Cowboys’ long-term plans. But it’s important to remember that Clark was forced to play out of position in 2023 due to Leighton Vander Esch’s medical issues. Vander Esch was supposed to be the Mike, or middle linebacker, but only made it five games before his neck problems ended his season and career.

With Overshown on IR and safety convert Markquese Bell the only other option, Clark was the best of bad options to replace Vander Esch. He was pulled away from his ideal spot as the weakside linebacker, where his athleticism was more utilized, and stuck playing in the middle where he could be overpowered as a run defender. While Clark did rack up 109 tackles last year, there were clear situations where he was also exposed for being in the wrong role.

The Cowboys recognized that Clark was miscast and made Kendricks, a run-stopper and middle linebacker to the core, one of their few free-agent signings. They also used a third-round pick on Liufau, who also projects as a middle LB and should be Kendricks’ backup. These moves aren’t about dumping Clark, but rather getting him back to where he belongs in the front seven.

True, Clark will now be in competition with Overshown for those weakside duties and playing time on the primary nickel defense. But while we’re all excited to see what Dallas’ 2023 third-round pick can do, Overshown is coming off a missed rookie season due to an ACL injury. Will he be ready for a key role this quickly? Even if Overshown’s going to be a great one for years to come, couldn’t he need a little time to get there?

That’s where Clark still brings tremendous value to the team this year. His experience will be a huge edge over Overshown in their competition and even potentially as a backup to Kendricks. Liufau was seen as a reach by many for a third-round pick and, if they were right, could mean you wouldn’t want him taking meaningful snaps early. Clark may not be the best option to play middle in the NFL but at least he’s done it, which is more than you can say for Liufau or Overshown.

So while the Cowboys have worked to renovate their linebacker room in 2024, don’t think that means they’re putting Damone Clark out on the curb. Clark’s still young, only entering his third season, and already has a wealth of experience despite his own challenging circumstances early in his career. If he makes a leap in 2024, or if the other guys don’t hit the ground running, don’t be surprised if Clark still gets a lot of starts and significant playing time in the upcoming season.


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