On Friday, the Dallas Cowboys signed defensive end Igor Olshansky (formerly of the Chargers) to a 4-year/$18 million deal. Jerry Jones was wise to play the waiting game, and was rewarded by landing a solid, experienced player at a clearance sale price. The 6'6"/309 lb. Olshansky will man the defensive end position recently vacated by Chris Canty. Beyond the fact that the Cowboys have effectively replaced the departed Canty, what does this move mean for the 2009 Cowboys?
The signing of Olshansky most likely cancels out any chance of nose tackle Jay Ratliff kicking outside full-time. If the Cowboys intent was to move Ratliff to defensive end full time, they would have instead been looking for a nose tackle after Canty signed with the Giants. If the plan was to play Marcus Spears and Ratliff at the ends with Stephen Bowen providing depth, the signing of Olshansky would have been pure gluttony. The Cowboys would also have a gaping hole in the middle of the defensive line. Barring any unforeseen, dramatic change of events, the 2009 Cowboys will start Igor Olshansky, Jay Ratliff, and Marcus Spears across the defensive line.
This move also means that the Cowboys will have a bit more flexibility on draft day. After filling needs at inside linebacker (Keith Brooking) and now defensive end, the Cowboys will not be forced to reach at either of these positions on draft day. Unless the available talent is simply overwhelming, the Cowboys can focus on other needs early in the draft. With the Spears heading into a contract year, the Cowboys will likely draft some depth, but they can now wait until the middle or late rounds. The Cowboys may now also be inclined to draft a more raw player with more upside, as he will not be called upon to start right away. The more needs you have filled prior to the draft, the better chance you have at staying true to your board and getting value at your slot.
Perhaps most importantly, Olshansky's signing means that the Cowboys were able to let Chris Canty walk and replace his production for less than half the price. In Canty's four NFL seasons, he has averaged 37 tackles and 2.5 sacks per year. Over the course of Olshansky's five-year career, he has averaged 35.8 tackles and 2.2 sacks. As far as numbers are concerned, production is pretty much a push. Looking at film, it is evident that Olshansky has a far more consistent motor than Canty. Olshansky's relentless nature allows those around him to make plays as well, so some of his value will not show up on the stat sheet.
If there has been any theme to this Cowboys off-season, it has been familiarity. Tony Romo's new backup Jon Kitna is quite familiar with the teams new number one wide receiver Roy Williams. Newly acquired linebackers Keith Brooking and Matt Stewart are familiar with Wade Phillips and his defensive scheme. Phillips also has a certain familiarity with Olshansky, whom he coached for three seasons while running the San Diego Chargers defense.
In short, the Cowboys balked at the notion of handing $42 million to an inconsistent Chris Canty. The Cowboys then signed an equally productive replacement who is already familiar with the defense. Lastly, the team saved about $24 million in the process. Not bad for an owner who is supposed to be an old, crazy, free-spender who isn't a "football guy".