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Patriots release DE Kony Ealy, here is why Cowboys could be interested

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Kony Ealy isn’t just a run of the mill free agent, he’s someone the Cowboys were once really high on.

NFL: Super Bowl 50-Carolina Panthers vs Denver Broncos Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As annoying as it can be to constantly see the Cowboys linked to every available free agent, the latest free agent is worth a mention. We saw this offseason with guys like Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie that a recognizable name can often spark false interest. Kony Ealy isn’t just the latest to hit the market, he’s someone that Dallas was once very high on.

Covering the basics, the Patriots released Kony Ealy this weekend only months after they traded a second-round pick to the Panthers for him. Mike Garafolo first reported the release but the signs were on the wall in the Patriots preseason game on Friday. In a game that is often referred to as the dress rehearsal, Ealy didn’t see the field until the third quarter when many of New England’s significant contributors were being pulled. Garafolo explains that the Patriots were looking for Ealy to fit a certain role that just wasn’t working out.

It’s worth noting that the Patriots did explore the option to trade him but there were no reported interest or suitors. The reason that Ealy is intriguing is that he’s a former official pre-draft visit from 2014, one that the Cowboys had a substantial interest in drafting. In fact, Stephen Jones admitted that had the Cowboys not traded up to select DeMarcus Lawrence, Kony Ealy was the pick at 47:

"I would say that Ealy was probably our next pick. We really felt like we needed some help at the right end after losing DeMarcus (Ware). "We'll probably spend a lot of time -- because you like to learn from history -- are we going to be better off with Demarcus Lawrence, which we think we will, Jones said. Or would we have been better off with Ealy and a guy like Trai Turner as a guard for us."

What’s interesting about that trade for Lawrence is that the Panthers wound up executing the exact plan the Cowboys’ had considered. Both Ealy and Turner went to Carolina with picks 60 and 92. By the looks of it, three years later, the Cowboys would have been better off with those two players for the price of Lawrence. Ealy has only missed one game in his career and Turner has started 41 of 48 potential games for the Panthers.

Ealy hasn’t been a world beater by any means and some of his numbers are fairly similar to Lawrence’s. Kony has 76 career tackles to Tank’s 75. Lawrence has one more start than Ealy but the former Missouri Tiger has 14 career sacks to only nine for DeMarcus. Ealy also has an interception and six forced fumbles to his name.

Carolina used Ealy a little differently than the Cowboys have Lawrence. Ealy has been a five sack guy on a quality defensive line that didn’t need him to carry the load. Lawrence got eight of his nine sacks in one season and is by far the most accomplished guy on the roster.

Both guys have left more to be desired but are still only 25 years old. Before we dismiss Ealy as a bum because he was cut by the Super Bowl champs, Ealy’s 6’4, 275-pound frame suggests that he’s a better fit as a 4-3 end. He wasn’t likely to fit in that outside linebacker role with the other duties in coverage not being his strong suit. He is best when he’s brought in fresh and told to get after the quarterback. Besides, Ealy has two inches and 15 pounds on Ninkovich.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cowboys make a play for Ealy not solely based on their former interest but because he’s the exact type of free agent that Will McClay goes after. He comes from a big program where he excelled, he was a high draft pick, and he’s still got youth and upside.

Not to mention the fact that the Cowboys will be missing David Irving and Damontre’ Moore to start the year. McClay is always looking for a guy in need of Rod Marinelli-magic, Ealy has the talent but needs refinement. Ealy had three sacks in Super Bowl 50, he is a good rotational pass rusher which is exactly what Marinelli is looking to bring in. Dallas has pass rushers but they’re not exactly set at the position. The Cowboys are looking for any jolt they can add to their pass rush. Kony Ealy’s got enough juice to make it worth a squeeze or two.