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Why Don’t The Cowboys Invest In “War Daddies” During Free Agency?

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The Dallas Cowboys need an improved pass rush, which many think needs a “war daddy” who consumes blockers. But are they likely to spend enough to get one? Why not?

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

About a month ago, Jerry Jones was on local radio, and the question of the Dallas pass rush came up. Jerry coined the phrase “war daddy” to describe a premium pass rusher, saying that he’d love for the Cowboys to get one.

"If I have a chance to bring one of these premiere pass rushers, one of these war daddies that takes two to block, if I have a chance to get a player like that, I would,” Jones said on J Dub City (KESN-FM 103.3). "It's not a question of that. It's a question of where is he? And who gives him up if he's a veteran? Or where is he in the draft, or where is he anywhere? So, yeah, we do need pressure. We're going to try to do something about it."

But would he? Or, more accurately, would a Cowboys defense led by Rod Marinelli make sufficient use of a “war daddy” to make it worthwhile to pay the premium necessary to bring in and keep such a player?

To get at this question, we looked at the defensive linemen snaps for the Cowboys over the last three seasons, after Rod Marinelli took over as defensive coordinator.

In 2016, the defensive lineman who played the most snaps in the NFL was Olivier Vernon of the New York Giants, who signed an $85 million contract in the offseason, making it the richest contract for a defensive end in NFL history. No wonder they used him for 1,040 defensive snaps.

How many snaps did the leading Cowboy lineman have in 2016? The answer is rookie Maliek Collins, who played 656 snaps. That ranked him 50th in the NFL. Only three teams out of 32 had defensive linemen lead with fewer snaps - Atlanta (630), Baltimore (636), and Indianapolis (645).

In 2015, who had the most snaps on the Cowboys line? It was Tyrone Crawford, who had 705, ranking him 38th in NFL. DeMarcus Lawrence was one spot behind with 700 snaps. Notably, Greg Hardy got in 595 snaps in 2015, despite being the highest paid lineman Dallas has had under Marinelli. Of course, Hardy missed four games due to suspension, so he was on pace for 793 snaps. But would Marinelli have used him that much spread over 16 games?

In 2014, Tyrone Crawford led the Cowboys with 627 snaps, ranking him 63rd in the NFL.

If you go back to the last Cowboys team where Marinelli was not on staff, it was the 2012 defense led by Rob Ryan. It was also a 3-4 defense. Jason Hatcher led the linemen with 756 snaps, ranking him 46th in the NFL. DeMarcus Ware, at outside linebacker, played 864 snaps, which was only 44th among OLBs that year.

Here are some of the top free agent pass rushers who might have hit the market this offseason, and how many snaps each of them played in 2016. Several of these were tagged.

  • Chandler Jones. 938 snaps. Was tagged, but then extended for five years, $83 million.
  • Calais Campbell. 828 snaps. Signed by Jacksonville for four years, $60 million.
  • Melvin Ingram. 959 snaps. Tagged by the LA Chargers.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul. 792 snaps, despite missing 4 games to injury, which means he was on pace for more than 1,000 snaps. Tagged by the NY Giants.

To test this further, I looked back to Rod Marinelli’s stint in Chicago before he came to Dallas. In 2012, Julius Peppers led with 783 snaps. The data for 2011 is not readily available.

This does not prove that Dallas won’t ever pony up for an elite pass rusher while Rod Marinelli is the defensive coordinator. But it does suggest his philosophy of rolling eight guys, as Marinelli talked about in 2015, cuts against paying a top defensive lineman the premium they earn in today’s NFL.

"The depth is really good," Marinelli said. "You love rolling eight guys. That's when you're fresh and explosive, two-minute at the end of the game, you got some juice left. Those really good ones somehow find a way to still dig it out in the fourth quarter when they're tired."

If, under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys were to get a “war daddy”, he would still be rotated more than most teams do for their best linemen.