This week's Free Agency Focus will also center around bolstering a very rush-needy defensive line. The Cowboys managed 28 sacks in 2014, which landed them as the 28th ranked pass rush. One of the glaring reasons to me has been the lack of disruption in the middle. That's not good enough for Marinelli, who likes to call his unit "The Rushmen", someone has got to plug up some space allowing for rushers to get free. With the sudden emergence of Tyrone Crawford, the Cowboys could look to add more muscle up front in hopes of changing those putrid numbers.
It's no secret that Ndamukong Suh will be one of the most talked-about free agents. His counterpart, Nick Fairley, may be set to test the market. If the Lions' plan on signing Suh, there will be limited resources in trying to sign their other former first round pick. Fairley certainly fits the mold to which the Cowboys have been using with free agency. His high draft status has definitely put him on the radar.
After he transferred to Auburn, he really came along. In the 2010 BCS National Title game, Fairley had a sack, three tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble. That was good enough to earn him the defensive MVP award. He would also win the Lombardi Award that season. A consensus first-rounder, Fairly was taken 13th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
His career in Detroit hasn't gone as well as he probably hoped. In 2012, he was placed on Injured Reserve and this season sprained his MCL, which ended his season in week eight. He suited up for the Wildcard Round in Dallas but never played a snap. In four years, Fairley has recorded 98 tackles, 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and one returned for a score.
My opinion is that Fairley would fit nicely in this 4-3 scheme. His size (6'4, 308 lbs) and his quickness allow for him to plug the middle, and get guys home on their rush attempts while creating some disruption on his own. Suh has been an absolute beast in the NFL, I'd have to say that Fairley could help Tyrone Crawford by taking on some double-teams. As a one-tech, he would certainly be a nice upgrade at the position. Nick Hayden has consistently graded out negatively by Pro Football Focus. This season Hayden ended with a -27.5 rating. In only eight games this season, Fairley graded at +9.8 with only two negative outings.
Where Fairley is significantly better is at the point of attack. Just as every one-tech, he does take on some double teams, but has better quickness to read the play. Fairley also has more push to his game. Hayden has made a lot more tackles, but if you notice he's usually chasing from behind. Fairley doesn't get moved or taken out of the play nearly as much and his grading shows that.
The Cowboys' approach since 2012 is bringing in pieces through free agency that set themselves up for best available player in the draft. Nick Fairley is a name for sure, but his production doesn't suggest an expensive price-tag in 2015. At his position, it's even harder to expect a big payday. Unless your name is Haloti Ngata and you play the nose tackle in a 3-4. So what would you do? Can Fairley come in and help Dallas get the sack totals up?