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You Can Call Him Ray, or You Can Call Him James...

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or you can call him Bart,

But you better call an inside linebacker.

On Monday, a rumor surfaced that the Cowboys will pursue ILB Ray Lewis when free agency begins next month.  If true, this means the Zach Thomas era is likely over after one season. 

That's not a knock on Thomas.  He was the gritty, determined vet Cowboys' fans expected.  Thomas displayed the instincts and heart the team sought when it signed him to replace Akin Ayodele. 

But Thomas could not overcome simple physics.  He's listed at 228 lbs. on the team's site.  That's tiny.  Mighty mite Donnie Edwards excelled at this weight in Wade Phillips' San Diego 3-4, but Edwards was stacked behind the 348 lb. Jamal Williams.   Thomas played behind the 298 lb. Jay Ratliff. 

This means that on interior runs, Thomas had to engage guards and tackles who out-weighed him by 100 lbs. or so.  He had the balance and the technique to keep his feet, but he often resembled a human pinball.  The Redskins, in particular, made Thomas their target on running downs.  

For perspective, look at these four Thomas-sized teammates. Can you name them?

  • Player A -- 6'1", 224 lbs.
  • Player B -- 6'0", 225 lbs.
  • Player C -- 6'2", 225 lbs.
  • Player D -- 6'3", 227 lbs.

(Player A is Mat McBriar,  Player B is Roy Williams, Player C is Tony Romo and Player D is Kevin Burnett.)

This list gives me a much greater appreciation for Thomas' play.  He's no bigger than the team's punter, quarterback or strong safety, yet he endured 16 games in the NFL's meat grinder.  At the same time, it also reveals why Thomas offered only a modest upgrade over Ayodele, even though Thomas finished with 94 tackles, up from Ayodele's 2007 total of 57.  Thomas lacks the ballast to shed Big blockers.  He made a lot of stops, but too many of them were five, six and seven yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Burnett's lack of size also reveals why the Cowboys are looking outside the organization again.  He's the team's best coverage linebacker, but he's not better built to play the run.

Dallas is also looking for more bulk at the nose tackle spot.  News from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, has Cowboys' scouts talking to Boston College's Ron Brace, among other big linemen.  Getting a Brace (329 lbs.) or a Dorrell Scott(320 lbs.) would make life easier for Burnett or Thomas, were they to return, but the Cowboys need more size. 

The team will have some big, experienced free agent options.  Lewis, Bart Scott and James Farrior are all between 240 and 250 lbs.  They may be too experienced, however -- Lewis is 33, Farrior is 34 and Scott will be 29 before the season starts. That said, they're all younger than Thomas, who turns 36 in September.

The team will probably look for a rookie ILB as well.  They loved defensive rookie of the year Jerod Mayo entering last year's draft, but he zoomed up the charts, landing in the top ten.  When you are charting rookies, discard any player who lists under 235 lbs.  The Cowboys already have too many midgets.

Trivia Questions of the Day:  There are enough Jacksons, Johnsons, Smiths, Thomases and Williams in the NFL to stock almost four entire rosters.

A.  Which "family" is the league's largest?

B.  Match the families to their total:

43, 42, 41, 23, 23

C.  Which family has the best team?

(Try to answer without looking up the answers.)