The first day of free agency features a ton of surprises. A couple weeks ago, I had proposed the idea of the Dallas Cowboys looking into signing Olivier Vernon if he became available. The idea of Vernon even being a thought to the Cowboys went down the drain when the rival New York Giants signed him to a five-year deal worth up to $85 million. I was a little bigger on Vernon than most people, but there's no chance in my mind that he's worth that amount of money.
Regardless, the Cowboys still needed to find some help across the defensive line and they got just that on the second day of free agency when they signed Cedric Thornton to a four-year deal worth up to $18 million. It's no secret that the Philadelphia Eagles have one of the better defensive lines in football. The Cowboys nabbed Thornton, giving the 27-year-old a bigger opportunity to make his presence known.
In four years with the Eagles, Thornton was extremely active when he was on the field. However, playing behind both Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox kept the Southern Arkansas product from breaking out and becoming a well-known player around the league. Dallas has been excellent at finding talent where others haven't in the past few years. And while Thornton may be getting a ton of money for a guy who hasn't necessarily been extremely productive, the Cowboys' brass believes that Thornton can successfully come in and make a difference as a starter from the get-go.
The first thing I notice when I watch the tape of Thornton is how well distributed his weight is. At 6'4, 310 pounds, Thornton has the ideal weight to play either as a defensive tackle or a defensive end. He's a bit of a tweener in that regard, but that doesn't take away from his activeness in the interior as well as his jump off the football. Let's a take a look at some clips that make Thornton an intriguing player for the Cowboys:
Despite going up against a Pro Bowl guard in Zack Martin, Thornton (72) gets a great push off the football to push Martin back, corrupting the running route go Joseph Randle. Thornton's ability to get a good push off the line of scrimmage is on full display here.
On top of his get-off from the snap, Thornton is a guy that's extremely adept at maintaining his ground in the running game. In the next clip, Thornton doesn't get that same quick jump off the football, but he does enough to bring down Darren McFadden without giving up much yardage.
In the next clip, Thornton shows off his athleticism on the stretch play. Not only does Thornton stretch out the play, allowing his teammates to help in pursuit, he also takes an excellent angle to the runner, meeting Jonathan Stewart in the backfield.
In the next clip, after noticing it's a run, Thornton sheds the blocker in front of him, maintaining his ground in the process. He then makes a stop for a play in the backfield. His recognition skills paired with his strength are another fascinating combination that can make him a scary defensive tackle in Dallas.
In the next clip, Thornton recognizes the blocking scheme. He shoots the gap and because of his strength, he's able to bounce off the block from the offensive lineman. Thornton then gets in the backfield and makes a big play.
Because the Eagles' line is so loaded with talent, Thornton is really a designated player for running plays only. In the next clip, Thornton sheds off a blocker to clog a running lane. He keeps good distance between the offensive lineman, allowing him to leverage himself in the way of Doug Martin to make a tackle near the line of scrimmage.
Coming to Dallas, Thornton will be in position to make a bigger and a more consistent impact. As I said earlier, Thornton was behind a stacked interior defensive line in Philadelphia. In Dallas, he'll immediately come in and play a role where he can make an immediate impact next to Tyrone Crawford.
From the film I watched, it looks like Thornton is really a one-dimensional player, making his impact felt most against the run. However, with an expanded role, maybe he can make a similar impact in pass-rushing situations as well. Regardless of his production over the past few years, this is a move that has the look of a medium-risk, high-reward type of situation. With the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, it's going to be quite interesting to chart and follow Thornton in the coming months.