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Should The Cowboys Aggressively Pursue Bruce Carter?

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While it seems popular for most to write off Bruce Carter as someone that will not be here once the regular season begins, perhaps we should review why it might make more sense to not give up so easily.

54 Is The Mike
54 Is The Mike
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Carter has been with the Dallas Cowboys for four years now. When he was drafted the Cowboys had a first-round grade on the extremely athletic linebacker. Rob Ryan plugged him into his 3-4 scheme and at the beginning he just did not fit at all, but started to bloom towards the end of Ryan' stint.

Then along came Monte Kiffin with the famous Tampa-2 scheme where the "Will" linebacker was the perfect spot for the potential star and in 2013 he finally began to shine more.

In fact he was progressing so well that some thought he had a chance to be the next Derrick Brooks.

It’s certainly premature to put Carter in that class, but as was the case with Brooks in Tampa, Kiffin has inherited a young player with physical traits and instincts that make him a perfect fit to be a playmaker from the weakside linebacker spot in his scheme.

Carter is probably the Cowboys fastest linebacker and he may be in the top two or three in the NFL as he was timed at  4.39 during his North Carolina pro day. This past year he led all NFL linebackers in interceptions with five and was tied for third in the NFL among all players at any position. The two players in front of him and the one he was tied with were all safeties.

With perhaps Jermey Parnell and Doug Free fighting for a roster spot, maybe Bruce Carter is likewise fighting it out with Justin Durant and if that is so, then the biggest question should be which one brings what the Cowboys need the most. Value for the money has to be factored in but that should be secondary after deciding which one to pursue.

THE VALUE OF TURNOVERS:

What is the one thing that a single player can bring on defense that matters most to winning? The answer is universally accepted that turnovers matter the most. While some argue that some turnovers are more costly than others depending upon field position, Austin Tymins in his article NFL Analytics: Turnovers Are Turnovers points to a Book by Pete Palmer and Bob Carroll that shows empirically that a turnover is worth 4 points.

While conventional football wisdom states that red zone turnovers are especially costly, analytics research has often said the near opposite. In The Hidden Game of Football, a seminal work introducing the world to football analytics, Pete Palmer and Bob Carroll present the controversial idea that a turnover has a constant value of negative 4 expected points regardless of field position.

Typically a team will have an average of 12 possessions per game and if a turnover happens, if the turnover happens early in the possession, it stands to reason that now one team will have 13 possessions and the other 11 possessions, and with two turnovers, it goes to 14 and 10, and so-on. More possessions, more odds that the team with the more possessions will win the game.

TACKLES:

Probably tackles are second in ranking, but sometimes the type of defensive scheme will somewhat dictate the amount of tackles because the defense may "funnel" the ball carrier to a spot such as to the middle.

As a general rule the middle linebacker is the leader of a 4-3 defense. As the leader, he wears the play-calling helmet and is therefore almost always a three-down linebacker. He is also responsible for calling out defensive alignments and audibles. The 4-3 defense is set up to funnel the play to the middle of the defense (e.g. defensive ends contain ball-carrier to the inside). Therefore, middle backers are often times the most productive....

According to NFL stats over at NFL.Com here are the number of combined, (solo and assists),  tackles along with the average tackles per game, the projected total if they played 16 games and the number of interceptions for the following players:

Rank Name Comb Games Avg. Proj. Int
224 Justin Durant 49 6 8.17 130.67 1
76 Rolando McClain 81 13 6.23 99.69 2
119 Bruce Carter 68 13 5.23 83.69 5
92 Anthony Hitchens 75 16 4.69 75.00 1
95 J.J. Wilcox 74 16 4.63 74.00 3
181 Olando Scandrick 55 14 3.93 62.86 2
187 Brandon Carr 54 16 3.38 54.00 0
327 Nick Hayden 38 16 2.38 38.00 0
345 Jeremy Mincey 36 16 2.25 36.00 0
366 Tyrone Crawford 33 15 2.20 35.20 0
399 George Selvie 30 16 1.88 30.00 0
501 Anthony Spencer 22 13 1.69 27.08 0
434 Kyle Wilber 27 16 1.69 27.00 0
545 Terrell McClain 19 13 1.46 23.38 0
573 Jeff Heath 17 14 1.21 19.43 0
592 C.J. Spillman 16 16 1.00 16.00 0
611 Cameron Lawrence 15 16 0.94 15.00 0
611 Henry Melton 15 16 0.94 15.00 0
656 Dwayne Harris 12 16 0.75 12.00 0
719 James Hanna 9 16 0.56 9.00 0

Notice that Durant averages three more tackles per game than Carter and that his 8.17 tackles per game would give him 131 tackles for a 16 game season and that would put him 9th in the NFL while Carters' 5.23 tackles per game would give him 84 tackles for a full season and would place him 66th overall. But keep in mind some of those tackles that Durant got, (and that Carter got), were because he was at the middle linebacker position.

Also keep in mind that Durant has been in the league twice as long as Carter, (8 years vs. 4 years), and that Carter could certainly become more productive with more experience.

THE VALUE OF THE POSITION:

While not every player on a team can be paid as the top player at his position, each position has it's own value. For example the quarterback position commands the most dollars per year, and below we see how the NFL teams value each of those position as far as what the franchise tag was for 2014.

Position Cost
Quarterback $16.192 million
Defensive end $13.116 million
Wide receiver $12.312 million
Cornerback $11.834 million
Offensive lineman $11.654 million
Linebacker $11.455 million
Defensive tackle $9.654 million
Running back $9.54 million
Safety $8.433 million
Tight end $7.035 million
Kicker/punter $3.556 million

While a good case could be made for both players, let's look at the things that each has going for them:

Bruce Carter:

  • Younger - Age 26
  • Interception leader on team
  • Fastest and very athletic
Justin Durant:

  • Most productive tackler on the team
  • May be cheaper than Carter
  • Fits the RKG mold to a tee
Can the Cowboys sign all three linebackers that are to be free agents, (Rolando McClain, Bruce Carter, and Justin Durant)? If not, which one will they not sign and will the reason be money more than anything?