Recently, Pro Football Focus published an article listing their top 15 edge rushers for the 2016 season. To the surprise of no one, there weren’t any Cowboys players on this list. In fact, you’d have to go outside the top 50 before you would find any of the Cowboys defensive ends on the list.
What you will find on their top 15 list is three really good free agents - Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, and Jason Pierre-Paul. We shall call them “the big three” as in the three who will be rich soon. These three players have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are the free agent pass rushers that teams will covet the most next month. Will Dallas be one of the teams vying for their services? Most prognosticators will tell you no, because the Cowboys have tapped the breaks on their free agent spending ways. At the same time, this is the team’s most dire need and if they want a player that will instantly make a difference - one of these players might be the way to go.
Let’s take a look at what PFF had to say about the big three:
I haven’t shared this with a lot of people, but when the Cowboys traded up to draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick in 2012, I was livid and threw my draft papers across the living room. I’m not proud of that moment. And it wasn’t anything I had against Claiborne. Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting the Cowboys to move up and hadn’t even researched him very much. But I had researched a bunch of other players and now all that work I had put into them was for naught. Two players in particular that I was excited about were Stanford guard, David DeCastro and South Carolina defensive end, Melvin Ingram.
I was smitten over the athleticism of Ingram, in particular the fake punt in this video. Look at the elusiveness of this defensive end playing like a running back.
David DeCastro was a very popular pick here at BTB and has since gone on to be an All Pro and signed a $50 million extension with the Pittsburgh Steelers last September. And it looks like Ingram is going to get his big payday too after turning into one of the better pass rushers in the game.
7. Melvin Ingram, San Diego Chargers
It wasn’t long ago that Melvin Ingram was seen as a first-round draft disappointment, but he has developed into the player that the Chargers thought he could be—it just took him the duration of his rookie contract. Ingram only had eight sacks this season, but posted 72 total pressures and had multiple pressures in every single game of the season. In seven games, he had at least five total pressures, and was also markedly improved against the run this season.
The Cowboys didn’t get him the first time around. Now, they’ll get a second chance.
Like Ingram, Jones is another pass rusher from the 2012 draft. But unlike Ingram, Jones made an impact right away. In just his second season, he recorded 11.5 sacks and has had at least 11 sacks in three of his five seasons in the league. The guy is a sack machine and one of the best young edge rushers in the game.
10. Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
Chandler Jones was one of the best pickups of the previous offseason, as the Cardinals capitalized on his off-field concerns in New England to acquire one of the better pass-rushers in the league. Jones racked up 66 total pressures over the season, and teamed with Calais Campbell inside and Markus Golden on the other side to suddenly give the Cardinals one of the league’s most formidable pass-rushing defensive fronts in the game. Jones opened the season with a sack in four straight games, and though he cooled down over the middle third of the year, he ended with two sacks in both of his final games.
While Jones played extremely well, the Patriots had some concerns after he was hospitalized for a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana. And with him on the last year of his rookie deal, the Patriots traded him away for guard, Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 second-round pick. Cooper has since been released and is now on the Cowboys roster. There aren’t a lot moves that the Patriots make that don’t turn out favorable for them, but this is one of them.
Arizona wouldn’t have traded for him if they didn’t have a serious intention of re-signing him. It’s going to take a lot of money to pull him away from the desert.
The New York Giants pass rusher is only 28 years old, but it feels like he’s already logged a full NFL career. That’s most likely attributed to the havoc he has wreaked on the Cowboys for the last several seasons. He’s had a dramatic blocked field goal late in a game as well as picking off a Tony Romo screen pass and running it back for a touchdown.
Just like Ingram and Jones, Pierre-Paul is also a former first-round pick, however he was drafted a couple years earlier in 2010. He was just 21 years old when he entered the league so he’s still young, but Pierre-Paul has a lot of mileage. He was strong out of the gate, playing at a high level his first three seasons and earning All-Pro honors in 2011. But he’s had some injuries in recent years and has missed games in three of the last four seasons. In 2013, it was his back. In 2015, he had his infamous fireworks incident which cost him his right index finger. And last year was cut short due to a sports hernia injury.
14. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
Like his teammate, Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t get much time off during games, and actually played more snaps than many 16-game starters, despite going down midway through his 12th game of the season against the Steelers. JPP amassed 54 total QB pressures in those 11.5 games over the season, and was also second in the league in batting passes down at the line when he couldn’t get pressure on the play—again, despite missing four and a half games due to injury.
Even the Giants aren’t sure what to make of him as they placed the franchise tag on him in 2015 and then signed him to another one-year “prove it” deal last season. While Pierre-Paul might seem like a little bit of an enigma, one thing is for certain - when he’s on the field, he’s disruptive. And his hand doesn’t appear to be stopping him from being a force.
Would you like to see any of these pass rushers in a Cowboys uniform in 2017?