When 33-year-old linebacker David Harris was released a few weeks ago some thought he would be a good fit for the Cowboys. Sure he’s older, but besides Sean Lee how many of the Cowboys linebackers can truly be relied upon?
We all know the deal with Jaylon Smith, while Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are role players who could improve but they aren’t exactly guys you want playing 75%+ of the snaps over an extended period of time. Kyle Wilber and the rest of the depth chart are back end of the roster types who you primarily only want playing special teams, and the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is what happens if Sean Lee has to miss any time?
Signing an experienced veteran like Harris, who is still a productive player, to a cheap “show me” type of deal seemed like a good low risk move to shore up depth at the position. He ended up signing a two-year, $5 million deal after all.
Well now there may be an even better opportunity.
According to NFL.com Zachary Orr, formerly of the Ravens, is considering returning after abruptly retiring following the 2016 season due to a congenital neck/spine condition that showed up on an MRI after he suffered a herniated disc in his neck late last season.
Unlike Harris, Orr is only 25 and is an ascending player.
He made second team All-Pro last year in a breakout season, just his third in the league after going undrafted in 2014, where he led the Ravens with 130 total tackles to go along with five pass deflections and three interceptions. He played 92% of the defensive snaps, third on the team behind Eric Weddle and Ladarius Webb, and that’s despite the fact that he missed the final game of the year. He rarely left the field and is a prototypical “three-down” linebacker with the ability to play the run and drop into coverage, and together with C.J. Mosley the Ravens had one of the best linebacker duos in the league.
Baltimore was looking to sign Orr to an extension at the end of last season but now they don’t seem particularly interested given his surprising retirement and the uncertainty surrounding his neck. There doesn’t seem to be much information out there regarding the severity of the injury but assuming his asking price is relatively low, and that he can pass a physical of course, the gamble would be well worth the reward.
And the ace in the hole that may sway Orr in the Cowboys favor if the team were indeed interested?
He grew up in DeSoto and went to college at nearby North Texas.
The optimism surrounding the Cowboys current linebacker corps is understandable. Sean Lee is one of the league’s best and if Jaylon Smith is able to play 75%+ of the snaps there is a strong possibility that the two will end up as one of the better duos in the league. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are reliable rotational players who can start in a pinch if need be, and Wilson may develop into something more going into his third season.
But that doesn’t mean the team should ignore opportunities like this. The chance to kick the tires with a cheap deal on a young, potentially elite talent who is clean off the field doesn’t come around very often. He may never play another snap of football in his life or he may go on to play another 8-10 years, making multiple Pro Bowls in the process, you just don’t know.
Heck, Ronald Leary was supposed to be a third-round pick a few years ago and went undrafted because of a degenerative knee condition that many thought could cut his career short. Five years, 47 career starts, and a $36 million dollar contract later and Leary seems to be getting along just fine.
This wouldn’t just be a move to shore up depth in the near term either like signing Harris would have been, it could have a long-term impact on the roster. If Orr is healthy and able to resume his career to a somewhat normal degree he could be a fixture on the defense for several years to come, and he could actually end up replacing Lee in a few years now that he’s 31.
Not going after a 33-year-old Harris is certainly understandable, but the team owes it to themselves to at least take a look at a player like Orr.