Not only did the Dallas Cowboys’ premiere back-up DE/DT go down for the count on Day One of camp, but now the starter in front of him warms the shelf. DE Anthony Spencer will have minor knee surgery this week, removing his camp services beyond a few weeks.
The procedure is scheduled to take place “at some point before the end of the week”, according to Head Coach Jason Garrett. What’s the rush right, it’s only invaluable training camp time at a new position.
How about showing a little more urgency to improve, and take care of it ASAP expediting his return to the earliest (safely) time possible?
Sounds like a great time to panic in Cowboys circles, right? Try asking the player personnel department if they are panicking in any way. This is the same valiant group of scouts that had to replace countless fallen starters at a moments notice during the 2012 season.
Locating next week’s starter off the street in a day or two, is light years more daunting than what they currently face at defensive end.
Word around the Cowboys’ campfire is these injuries took place at the worst time, as there is a great shortage at DE, creating real uncertainty. In my eyes, it was the best possible time for this to take place, aside from the football barren off-season.
Dallas still has several weeks to locate Tyrone Crawford’s replacement, and Anthony Spencer gets plenty of opportunity to rehab his knee, prior to facing off against the Giants.
WHAT WAS TYRONE CRAWFORD?
To understand the task at hand, we need to take a deeper look at exactly what Tyrone Crawford was on the defense. For all intents and purposes, Crawford was more of a luxury to the defense than an absolute must.
Sure he was very valuable to the defensive line rotation, you will find no argument here. He also was to play a large hand in helping Dallas decide what to do for the future at defensive end beyond 2013.
Yet to appropriately replace Crawford, the rose colored glasses need to come off. Potential is great and all, but it’s just that, an unknown. The last time Tyrone Crawford strapped on pads was as a rookie 3rd round draft pick. He totaled 20 tackles (0 sacks) as a reliable defender, not a prodigy by any means.
It’s likely that would have improved substantially in his 2nd season while back at his natural position, yet the truth is, we just don’t know, no one does. Instead of trying to replace his potential, Dallas must replace his actual past production. That’s the only fact you can count on, what he has really produced on the NFL field.
Most important, Crawford heading into his 2nd season was a versatile player with large upside and a small salary. He was set to make $480k, $570k, and $660k from 2013-2015. A major part of his appeal was his upside in relation to his pricetag.
WHAT TO SEEK WHEN REPLACING
All of these high-priced, accomplished free-agents still on the market sound great in theory, but they just don’t translate to what Dallas lost. The team cannot afford to shell out another hefty salary for merely a back-up defensive end, when they already are paying Anthony Spencer on a franchise tag and DeMarcus Ware a Pro Bowler’s salary.
It will greatly overload expenses at DE for similar production to what Crawford offered. In turn, it also severely limits DE options for 2014 when deciding between keeping Spencer, turning it over to Crawford, or selecting a high round draft pick.
None of the DEs still on the market bring an attractive enough complete package (talent, age, and value) to wager the future on them beyond 2013. BTW, I’m limiting the replacement of Crawford to the DE position, as Dallas has repeatedly stated they are content with what they already have at DT.
Sure Crawford would have been nice to rotate now and then at DT, to get a faster rush than the current back-ups, but it wasn’t necessary to make or break the effectiveness of the current line. They will be fine at tackle as is.
PATIENCE IS THE KEY
What the public seems to be forgetting (not the scouts) is that there are very roughly 190 DEs currently on NFL rosters. When teams cut down to their final 53 man roster, that will leave somewhere around 130. The point is 60+ defensive ends will become available between now and Week One.
Each and every year, there are guys that miss the cut, yet do possess talent and potential. They simply get caught up on the losing end of a numbers game, for one reason or another. Right off the top of my head, I know San Francisco has four very solid defensive ends that all could start somewhere in this league…Ray MacDonald, Justin Smith, Tank Carradine, and Glen Dorsey.
Not sure what type of young talent is behind them, and they are a 3-4 defense, but those back-ups will either get the pink slip or head to the practice squad. Either way they can be snatched up by any club willing to sign them to their main roster.
The above case is just a hypothetical, but is similar to situations with several teams, too much talent at one position to keep everyone. One man’s trash is often another man’s treasure in the NFL.
Danny Amendola became the Cowboys’ trash at WR, joining the practice squad in 2008. He’s now the premiere wideout in New England.
Furthermore, he contributed 43 receptions in St. Louis in 2009, his first year on a roster. Far greater production than Kevin Ogletree gave Dallas that same season, one of the guys we kept instead of Amendola. These oversights happen quite often in the league. You can’t keep them all.
A different form of available talent after cuts comes from still productive veterans being shown the door in favor of a younger player who stood out in camp. I’m convinced Andre Gurode would have outplayed Phil Costa at center in 2011 when Jerry Jones cut him in camp. There were reasons, but none great enough to warrant what we got from Costa starting that year.
The bottom line is solid options at back-up defensive end will come available between now and Week One after all roster cuts are made. There will be a handful of relatively inexpensive players with superior talent above the guys beyond Kyle Wilber, at the very least.
The Cowboys’ scouts know this and feel little imminent pressure to find THE GUY to replace Crawford. They may sign a decent camp body soon to fill the lineup, but that player likely won’t be the final choice to bridge the gap.
Remember, Dallas is looking for a quality, relatively inexpensive player, to provide them with slightly above a handful of snaps a game. His job is to effectively spell the starters along with Wilber for the 2013 season.
They don’t have to locate the answer for the future, although it would be nice at the right price. The main goal is to closely duplicate Crawford’s substitution production at a price that won’t hamper the roster and cap beyond 2013.
Patience is the key here, the scouts and coaches in Dallas know this. For the moment, it allows them to take a much needed closer look at what Wilber and the other back-ups bring to the table at the position.
It’s certainly an unfortunate situation to lose Tyrone Crawford for the season, and does effect future decisions, yet 2013 is all the team needs to remedy now. Dallas will be just fine for the season once they locate the right guy after roster cuts.
Defensive end is a relatively easy position to quickly become accustomed to the specific responsibilities in any variation of the 4-3 defense. Patience fellow Cowboys, nothing has broken yet that can’t be fixed in due time.