The Dallas Cowboys systematically attacked their biggest weakness this offseason. After ranking 28th in sacks last year, the Cowboys front office promptly signed controversial defensive end Greg Hardy to aid in their pass rush in 2015. Then they selected a top-ten talent, Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory, in second round of this year’s NFL Draft. Combined with veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who led the team with 6.0 sacks in 2014, and second-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys ability to get to opposing quarterbacks should be much improved this season. But is Dallas done adding pass rushing talent to this roster? Maybe not.
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Although it appears this Cowboys defensive line is locked and loaded with talent, there are still several questions that need to be answered. For instance, as it stands now, this line will be without Hardy for the first four games of the regular season following his reduced suspension for his part in a well-documented domestic violence incident from last year. Most believe some combination of Lawrence and Gregory can fill the void in the interim. But one is coming off a lackluster rookie season where he recorded just nine total tackles and zero sacks in seven regular season games. The other is a rookie who dropped out of the top ten in the draft to number 60 overall due to questions about his past drug use and slight frame.
Bottom line is: this D-line could use a veteran presence. Therefore, when Pro-Bowl pass rusher, and current free agent, Dwight Freeney took to the airwaves this week talking about looking for another chance to play, some fans naturally thought Dallas could be the answer.
"“A lot of it is up in the air,” Freeney told former NFL general manager Bill Polian and Alex Marvez on Sirius XM NFL Radio earlier this week. “I have aspirations to play, but the thing is I have to be in the right situation for me. I can’t get put in a situation where I’m running away from the ball. I want to run toward the guy with the ball more than I’m running away.”"
Last season, Freeney played in the San Diego Chargers 3-4 defense, which required the veteran pass rusher to play more pass coverage than apparently he wanted. In the Cowboys 4-3 defense, the veteran could move to defensive end and become more of the situational or nickle rusher that better fits his current abilities. Combined with the fact the Cowboys were two games from a Super Bowl appearance last season, and Dallas could be the exact situation Freeney is looking for.
Freeney is a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time first team All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion (XLI) as a member of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. He’s also member of the 100 Sack Club (111.5 and counting) and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Freeney’s best season was in 2004, when he recorded 36 total tackles and 16.0 sacks.
But there are a few obstacles to this signing happening in Dallas. First, Freeney is now 35-years old. And it would be out of character for the Cowboys current regime to sign a player of his advanced NFL age. Former first round busts who are still in their mid-twenties seem to be this front office’s current free agent of choice.
Secondly, there is his salary. Last year, Freeney made just $1,625 million in base salary, after restructuring his contract in the offseason, according to Spotrac.com. But after a roster bonus of $2,453,125, the veteran’s cap hit was just north of four million dollars in 2014. Assuming the veteran would sign for near or less than that amount in Dallas, the Cowboys appear to be in excellent shape salary cap-wise following the signing of wide receiver Dez Bryant to a long-term contract last week. ESPN reports the Cowboys are in great position to sign a free agent, trade for a player or extending a contract for one of their own.
Finally, Freeney’s stats the last three seasons have been horrible. In that span, the former All-Pro has recorded a total of 24 tackles and 9.0 sacks. In 2013, his first season in San Diego, Freeney played just four games before tearing his quadriceps. Last year, despite playing in all 16 games, the aging pass rusher recorded just 10 total tackles and 3.5 sacks. But these numbers don’t reveal the whole truth as Freeney did lead the team in quarterback hurries with 40 and quarterback hits with nine in 2014. Pro Football Focus also ranked him as the seventh best pass rusher at his position last year in the 3-4 defense.
With Hardy scheduled to miss the first four games of the season, and the questions surrounding their other young pass rushers, I believe adding Freeney to the Cowboys defensive line certainly makes sense. But only at the right price.