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Cowboys Free Agency Focus 2015: Could Adrian Clayborn Be Next Bargain for Rod Marinelli?

Tampa Bay's first-round pick in 2011 could find himself wearing a star in 2015. Injury concerns have status in Lovie's 4-3 front in doubt.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In our first weekly installment of Free Agency Focus; we take a look at former first-round defensive end, Adrian Clayborn. His career has been somewhat marred by injury and limited opportunity. However, could Clayborn turn into 2015's Jeremy Mincey?

It sure seems like the Dallas Cowboys love reclamation projects, don't they? Why not, they've proven to be pretty good with bargain shopping over the past few seasons. Much like George Selvie in 2013 and Jeremy Mincey in 2014, Dallas is on a roll with cheap acquisitions.

Just a little back story; Adrian Clayborn was drafted 20th overall in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His collegiate career as an Iowa Hawkeye was rather impressive. There he earned 2010 First-team All-American, was named 2010's Orange Bowl MVP, and was a finalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award. His junior year was outstanding where he recorded 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss. Clayborn's senior year though not as stellar, was put on the map with an absolute dominating performance at the Orange Bowl. His nine tackle, two for a loss, plus two sack outing vaulted him into the first round of the 2011 Draft.

Clayborn's large frame was well-suited for the 4-3 strong-side defensive end position. It's likely that Dallas didn't see Adrian as a scheme fit for their 3-4 in 2011. His rookie year in Tampa was rather good according to Pro Football Focus. He recorded eight sacks and three forced fumbles on his way to posting a +14.5 pass rushing rating. Clayborn was also named to PFF's 2012 Breakout Player watch-list.

Those projections would never come to fruition as a knee injury placed Clayborn on Tampa's Injured Reserve list. He tore a ligament in his right knee in a loss to the Cowboys and missed 13 games that season. Clayborn returned to the Tampa lineup in 2013 and started all 16 games while recording 5.5 sacks. After the 2013 campaign, the Buccaneers' decided to decline his fifth-year option making him a unrestricted free agent in 2015. Subsequently, Clayborn tore his biceps in the opening game of this past season and was placed on injured reserve yet again.

Adrian Clayborn will likely be allowed to test offers in free agency this March; would Dallas be willing to take flyer on him? More importantly, could Clayborn be Rod Marinelli's next patient? The relationship between Lovie Smith and Marinelli may suggest that he'd fit the criteria.

High draft status? Check. Low-cost? Check. Flashes of production? Check. With all of the above in mind; we ask what is your opinion on the matter? I'll leave you with this amusing little remark from 2012:

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