Stephen Paea may not be a household name but neither was the “Dancing Bear” Terrell McClain when he signed with the Cowboys back in 2014. However, when you see what he can bring to the defense and his commitment to “Marinelli-Magic”; you’ll like him hopefully just as much as we do. We wrote about him two seasons ago, here.
The Deal Details
We’re going to give you a rundown of Stephen Paea but before we kick off his NFL career up to this point, let’s examine the deal. According to sources, it’s a one-year deal worth $2 million. Compare that to the three-year deal that McClain signed in 2014 ($3.05M, maxed out at $3.8M) and it’s pretty solid deal that could pay off handsomely.
Getting a starting caliber one-tech defensive tackle, who has familiarity with the scheme and coordinator for that low a price is a deal and a half.
Paea’s NFL Timeline
Paea’s perhaps best-known for his amazing 49 bench press reps (at 225 lbs) at his Combine, the most since Justin Ernest put up 51 in 1999. In Paea’s debut with the Bears, he sacked Donovan McNabb in the end zone to become the first Bear to record a safety in his debut since 1970.
In his rookie season, Paea played in 11 games, recorded 14 tackles and two sacks. He also won the Brian Piccolo Award, the most prestigious award the Bears give for a player that exemplifies courage, teamwork, and everything it means to be Bear. Paea would go on to play four years with the Bears and only miss seven games. He was a full-time starter by his second season and had his breakout year in 2014.
Paea started all 16 games, recorded six sacks, and two forced fumbles despite the Bears only winning five games that season. He became a free agent following that year and signed a four-year deal with the Washington Redskins. He was only able to record 1.5 sacks and 19 tackles before being placed on IR with a toe sprain in December. He was released by Washington just before the 2016 season and played this past year with the Cleveland Browns appearing in 13 games and recording 14 tackles with a half-sack before becoming a free agent.
For his career, Paea has played in 79 games, he has recorded 125 tackles, 14 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Compare & Contrast
Both McClain and Paea are very compatible in terms of their career as they both enter their seventh seasons in the league. McClain was drafted 65th overall by the Carolina Panthers and Paea was drafted 53rd overall by the Chicago Bear, both in the 2011 NFL Draft. Checks out these two pick analyses from draft day 2011:
Terrell McClain: McClain is a very disruptive run defender that should be able to contribute immediately in a defensive line rotation. He gets off the ball quickly and has the foot speed to penetrate gaps on stunts. He also has fast strong hands to engage and disengage in an instant to get in running lanes and after the quarterback. He is not an experienced pass rusher at this point, but he has the potential to improve due to his quick feet and hands. McClain brings it on every down and he should not last past the second round.
Stephen Paea: Paea is a powerful run stuffer that plays angry and should contribute immediately at the next level. He is as strong as an ox and consistently knocks lineman back on their heels. He takes on double teams and is near impossible to move out of the hole. He lacks refined pass rushing skills, but has heavy hands and a good burst to eventually become a weapon on third down. He is still learning the finer points of the game, but he has unparalleled toughness and a tireless work ethic. Paea will likely not last past the middle of the first round.
Further comparisons will show that though he’s battled through some nicks and bruises, Paea has amassed 17 more games than Terrell McClain in the same six seasons, who spent two of his three seasons with the Cowboys on injured reserve. Paea also has 10 more career sacks and 35 more career tackles than McClain. Here’s another interesting tidbit to take for what it’s worth:
What Does This All Mean For The Cowboys?
This is not throwing shade on McClain who was probably one of the top free agents this team would have liked to keep. However, that departure left a hole that needed to be filled with a quality starting-caliber player and that’s what the Cowboys did.
Dallas signed Cedric Thornton to a four-year, $18 million deal with $9 million guaranteed last offseason. There is no doubt that the competition for the full-time starter at one-tech defensive tackle will be on again. However, Rod Marinelli likes to have a solid stable of rotational players for his defensive line and that’s what this signing of Paea is all about.
With Thornton and Paea set to be your one-techs, there is the likely possibility that Tyrone Crawford will be paired with Maliek Collins at the penetrating three-tech position. This doesn’t preclude the Cowboys’ from drafting a defensive tackle should the talent be there but they are back to having a truly solid rotation in the middle.
All in all, you have got be happy to have been able to get a guy with familiarity that has a history of production on such a low-cost deal. That is, of course, unless you thought the Cowboys were going to land Dontari Poe but then we would have to ask what blog have you been reading? Paea is one of those sound decisions that fortifies the run defense with potential to let other guys get home. What’s not to like about that?