NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports

Tyrone Crawford means more to the Dallas Cowboys than many outside the organization care to believe or admit aloud. His injury-driven absence in 2019 put his value front-and-center for the club -- serving as an unneeded reminder of his potency both on the field and in the locker room. And yet, during the offseason to follow, Crawford has been maligned by those outside of the equation who've reduced his presence to nothing more than a salary cap hit, but that stance could not be farther from the reality of how he's viewed by the front office, players and even the newly-hired coaching staff. So as the 30-year-old readies himself to report to training camp in late July, he does so with a chip on his shoulder and likely an increased role to come.

The stage is set for a more polished and consistent set of expectations under Mike McCarthy, Mike Nolan and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula that caused the team to scrap any thoughts of seeking a salary reduction from Crawford, sources tell CBS Sports, instead looking to position him more on the right defensive edge than 3-tech on 4-3 sets; which allows him to play opposite DeMarcus Lawrence and anchor a rotation that includes Aldon Smith.

Yes, the expectation remains Randy Gregory will join Smith in the ranks of the reinstated, but that is not guaranteed. Assuming it does come to pass, the reality is Gregory was forced to sit out all of 2019 by Roger Goodell and Smith hasn't taken a football snap since 2015. The addition of Gerald McCoy certainly helps that side of the defensive line, but outside of McCoy and Crawford, there are a lot of question marks at the right edge -- including the ones surrounding which of the incumbent young talent (i.e., Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, etc.) will find a new gear this coming season. Then there are mavericks like undrafted rookie Ron'Dell Carter, who has an inside track to the roster despite COVID-19 forced reductions in camp size, but is still a first-year talent who's up against the learning curve.

That same curve applies to another rookie pass rusher in fifth-round pick Bradlee Anae, it all coming full circle back to just how much more valuable Crawford is in 2020 than he already was prior. 

This is why, in looking at Crawford's $9.1 million cap hit to come, the Cowboys are uber-comfortable, especially considering it involves no signing bonus hit for the first time in his career. The former third-round pick provides much-needed assurance at the right defensive end position and although he'll be tasked much less with doing so, also gives them an ability to flex inside to rush from 3-tech. Considering Nolan will run a 4-3 hybrid base -- i.e., it will shift to 3-4 on the fly and back to 4-3 time and again -- there's going to inherently be fewer 3-tech snaps for Crawford to take on anyway. 

Why? Well, here are some cliff notes for you. 

In a 3-4 setup, there is typically no 3-tech assignment, but instead a 0-tech (directly over center, nose tackle) and two 5-techs (defensive ends). In what's called an "Okie" front, the 3-4 assigns each of the three defensive linemen to attack one of two assigned gaps, and Crawford's ability to also rush from the interior makes him a great candidate to attack an offensive tackle from either shoulder. But whether it's an Okie, and Eagle front or an Under -- the latter "squeezing" the right defensive end (weakside) more inside with two-gap responsibilities that blend with the traditional placement of a 4-3 interior lineman who's just right of center (3-tech) -- Crawford's talent, abilities and expertise aren't easy to come by.

And now, he's healthy again, and hungrier than he's seemingly ever been.

It's also key to note Crawford is no stranger to the 3-4, having played in it as a rookie under Rob Ryan before the keys were tossed to Monte Kiffin to convert back to a 4-3 setup. This tidbit isn't lost on McCarthy, Nolan and Tomsula, who are looking for the best players that can dominate regardless of system. Additionally, Crawford can also rush the passer off of the strongside, allowing him to spell Lawrence as needed and allows even more flexibility on the edges for the Cowboys. 

By now, you're beginning to see the importance of Crawford on the field, but his absence in the locker room is just as poignant, which led to newcomers like Michael Bennett having to take up the mantle in lighting a fire under players when things were going poorly. While admirable, for someone who had almost literally just gotten off of the airplane and signed his contract, it arguably wasn't Bennett's job to fire up players he just met. That, quiet as it's kept, is often something Crawford has done over the years, and it's made him the heart of the defensive locker room -- holding everyone accountable and demanding better when times get tough.

He was thoroughly missed by his compatriots, including and especially Lawrence, who benefits greatly from Crawford being on the roster. Crawford hit the opposing quarterback 24 times in 2017 and 2018 combined, with 19 total pressures in 2018 and missed only 8.1 percent of his tackles that season. 

That kind of pressure and sure-handed tackling makes it easier for Lawrence to do his own variety of damage.

While it's easy to fawn over bigger names like Jadeveon Clowney, whom the Cowboys have zero interest in at an asking price of more than $18 million per year, the team sees no value in cutting out the heart of the locker room who also happened to have 5.5 sacks in 2019 -- behind only Lawrence and Gregory --  and who's also been their most consistent defender the past half-decade.

As unheralded as it may be, his absence for much of 2019 notwithstanding, Crawford has been one of the three best pass rushers for the Cowboys every single season from 2014 through 2018. Keeping in mind he's been able to achieve that while constantly yo-yoing his weight to take snaps from the interior as well, and no, the team isn't looking to ditch him to make room for others -- e.g., Everson Griffen -- they can't guarantee will be much better (if better at all) and who doesn't bring his locker room contribution/leadership to the table. There was interest in Griffen ahead of the draft but that's since dwindled, making him more of a possible add in the event of an injury on the defensive line rather than a swap move with Crawford.

The club isn't averse to having both on the team, a separate source tells CBS Sports, but they're not interested in shipping the latter out to bring in the former -- for every reason I've laid forth above. 

As he enters his contract year with much to prove to those who don't know any better, and with the new slate of Cowboys coaches ready to help him regain form after injury in a system that desperately needs him, all signs point to Crawford being a name you'll hear often in 2020. It doesn't appear they'll ask for a pay reduction, but instead more reps to better match what they'll pay him. For a guy who's always done whatever's been asked of him, and produced despite the challenges of sometimes doing so, it just makes sense to keep him around, despite the salary; which is $10 million less than the asking price of a rental who might not match Crawford's potential 2020 production and certainly won't match his locker room impact.

At least, it does to those who pay attention.