Dallas Cowboys rumors: Top target emerges to become defensive coordinator in 2021

By Matt Johnson
Nov 30, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; General overall view of the Dallas Cowboys logo at midfield during an NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys kicked off their offseason by firing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Now, as many teams focus on hiring their next head coach, Mike McCarthy could move quickly to land the next play-caller for his defense in 2021.

Just a day after McCarthy fired Nolan, following a disastrous 2020 season, another close friend of his could have an opportunity to take over as the defensive coordinator in Dallas.

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According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Mike McCarthy will meet with Atlanta Falcons defensive assistant Joe Whitt Jr. to discuss the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator vacancy. Furthermore, per Ian Rapoport, Whitt Jr. has been McCarthy’s target even before the team officially fired Nolan.

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McCarthy and Whitt Jr. have a history together. When the 57-year-old head coach was with the Green Bay Packers (2006-’18), Whitt served in a variety of roles on the defensive staff. He first joined the team as a defensive quality control coach in 2008, before coaching the cornerbacks from 2009-’17. In McCarthy’s final season with the Packers, Whitt Jr. served as the defensive passing game coordinator.

The 42-year-old defense assistant spent the 2020 season in Atlanta, coaching the secondary and working as the pass game coordinator.

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It’s worth mentioning that Atlanta had the NFL’s worst pass defense this season. The Falcons allowed opponents to average a league-high 293.4 passing yards per game. Just as alarming, opposing quarterbacks completed 68% of their pass attempts against Atlanta’s secondary and averaged a 101.7 quarterback rating in the regular season.

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By comparison, the Cowboys’ defense performed better than that. Opponents averaged 227.6 passing yards per game against Dallas, with quarterbacks completing 63.9% of their passes and averaging a 100.4 quarterback rating.

Hiring Whitt Jr. would likely draw some criticism from fans, given how poorly things worked out the last time he hired a friend as his defensive coordinator.

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Of course, hiring a new coordinator won’t be the only change made on defense this offseason. Cornerback is one of the team’s top needs, which could be addressed early in the 2021 NFL Draft. If that happens, it means two young cornerbacks could be starting on the outside next season.

Whitt’s extensive background working with defensive backs would make him appealing in that regard. However, given how his secondaries have performed in recent years, it might be wise to conduct an exhaustive search before making a hire.