Cowboys signing UFL standout is bad news for former draft pick

The Cowboys have signed another star from the UFL.
Philadelphia Eagles v Cleveland Browns
Philadelphia Eagles v Cleveland Browns / Jason Miller/GettyImages

One of the many reasons why Dallas Cowboys fans are excited for Mike Zimmer taking over as defensive coordinator is his history of getting the most out of his linebackers. The Cowboys haven't necessarily overhauled their LB corps this offseason, but the group will look a lot different in 2024.

After signing Eric Kendricks to be their field general and drafting downhill thumper Maris Liufau to inject more physicality into the defense, the Cowboys have signed Willie Harvey Jr. after he worked out for the team last week, per Tom Pelissero of NFL Media.

Harvey led the UFL with 76 tackles this season. He also led all linebackers with nine tackles for loss, six passes defended and two forced fumbles. He helped lead the St. Louis Battlehawks to the playoffs and was recognized with All-UFL honors.

Harvey will need to perform well in training camp and preseason to earn a roster spot, but we can't help but wonder what this move means for 2022 fifth-round pick Damone Clark.

Cowboys signing Willie Harvey Jr. could be bad news for Damone Clark

The Cowboys will deploy three linebackers in Zimmer's system. It stands to reason that Kendricks, Clark, and second-year breakout candidate DeMarvion Overshown will get the lion's share of reps. Though Overshown is coming off a torn ACL, Clark arguably stands on the least sturdy ground of that trio.

Clark took a notable step back last season after he showed promise as a rookie in 2022. He hardly came off the field after Leighton Vander Esch's season-ending injury and he was often caught out of position and filling the wrong gaps against the run.

Better nose tackle play will make Clark's job easier, but it says a lot that former undrafted free agent Markquese Bell outplayed Clark and showed better instincts after he abruptly moved from safety to linebacker in light of Vander Esch's injury.

Clark's 62.7 player grade last season ranked 14th amongst Dallas' defensive starters, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His 56.8 run-defense grade ranked 15th. Among players who logged at least 300 snaps, only Jayron Kearse, Chauncey Golston, Neville Gallimore, Johnathan Hankins, Mazi Smith posted lower grades defending the run.

Nobody's saying that Harvey is coming for Clark's starting job. Harvey faces an uphill climb to even make the 53-man roster. However, it's noteworthy that the Cowboys felt the need to add another linebacker even though their unit is already four deep.

Maybe Zimmer does wonders for Clark's development. Given Dallas' hit rate with identifying spring league talent (Brandon Aubrey, KaVontae Turpin, etc.), though, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Harvey could be their next gem.

If nothing else, this move puts a bigger spotlight on the 23-year-old Clark to perform in training camp and preseason.

The latest Cowboys news