The Dallas Cowboys have almost completed filling out their coaching staff, and that means the next thing on the agenda is to evaluate last season’s roster. There are some crucial decisions to be made about what players currently under contract will be released. And perhaps even more importantly, they have to decide which of their own free agents they need to retain, and what it will take to do so.
Among that group of players who can test the open market, there are some easy decisions. DE DeMarcus Lawrence is priority one to retain, and LS L.P. Ladouceur also seems like a no-brainer (and a lot cheaper, too). There are several others that are a bit more complicated. LB Anthony Hitchens, RB Alfred Morris, and OG Jonathan Cooper are all examples who may be retained depending on cost and who the staff thinks might be available as alternatives.
One name, however, is creating a bit of consternation. That is defensive lineman David Irving. The Cowboys have a good deal of control over him since he is a restricted free agent, meaning the team can place a first- or second-round tender on him that would require any team signing him away to give up a corresponding draft pick if the Cowboys choose not too match. The problem is that the management, including Stephen Jones, is not sounding exactly enthusiastic about working out a long-term deal with Irving, which also would mean they probably aren’t eager to match an offer from another team.
“It’ll be a difficult one and probably, if anything, he needs to put together a full season and consistency and all of that,” Jones said. “Obviously played outstanding when he was healthy. DeMarcus Lawrence put together a full, great year and obviously that’s important. So therefore, I think it’d be real difficult to figure out something long-term with David.”
There is an obvious reluctance to commit to Irving, who only played half the season. He was suspended for four games over a prohibited supplement he claims to have not been aware was in a product he was provided by a sponsor, and then missed the final four due to injury.
Here’s the problem. Jones’ take clearly discounts what Irving did accomplish in those eight games on the field. One of the best analysts who covers the Cowboys (at least in my opinion) is Bob Sturm, formerly of the Dallas Morning News and now the Cowboys writer for The Athletic (a huge get for the latter, again if my opinion means anything). He has been very concerned about the approach the team is taking to Irving, and he did a series of tweets about it, starting with this.
I have spent the last 60 minutes reviewing David Irving's season. Let me repeat - if anyone is worth a headache, they better be special. HE IS SPECIAL.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) February 1, 2018
To explain what Sturm means, consider the numbers from 2017. In those eight games, Irving had seven sacks and six passes defensed (meaning batted down). That sack total is more than all but four other defensive tackles in the league. And all of those four played the full season. The league leader was Aaron Donald, widely regarded as the best DT in the NFL - and he had nine, only two more than Irving. The PDs are an even better stat for Irving, because none of the DTs ahead of him had more than three.
Had Irving played sixteen games and kept the same level of production, he would have had fourteen sacks and twelve PDs (you are welcome for having the complicated math done for you - and you thought algebra would never come in handy after high school). He would not only have been the top DT at getting to the QB, he would have been fourth in the league in sacks, and only edge rushers would have been ahead of him. He would have been tied for 28th in passes defended, and only defensive backs would have led him. As it stands, only two defensive linemen, DEs Carlos Dunlap and Chris Jones, had more in 2017 - and they each notched seven.
Of course, projected totals are speculative, but even without that, Irving is a good sack artist (tied for 40th league wide) and he is absolutely elite at knocking passes down. He almost certainly would have reached double-digits in at least one of the two categories had he stayed on the field all year.
Here is another way to put the numbers.
What David Irving did in 8 games this season compared to what the 10 highest paid 4-3 DT's in the NFL did for the entire season. pic.twitter.com/wITVqbapVJ— Louis Bing (@LouisBing52) January 29, 2018
Is that really the kind of player you want to let leave? Back to Sturm (and if you have a moment, the entire thread is worth a read).
I figure they are going to put a 2nd round tender on him, lose him, celebrate a 2nd round pick, and watch him get 25 sacks in the next 3 years at DT.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) February 1, 2018
So what is the real problem? Yes, he made a mistake, but it was not a deliberate attempt to cheat or any illicit drug. And the injury was not something in his control.
Could it really be that “space cadet” thing? Irving does have some quirks. He has a, shall we say, rather individualistic hairstyle (something that I heard called a “skunk stripe” back in the 1960s - by the person who sported it). And he has pierced nipples, which led to a search for the jewelry involved when he lost a ring during practice.
Those seem like trivial reasons to take a negative view of a player, if indeed it is a factor. Perhaps, or even probably, there is a bit more to it than that. Todd Archer recently wrote:
Consistency has been Irving’s issue, on and off the field. His talent will give him chances others won’t get, but he confounds coaches at times. He did not practice in part of the offseason for reasons not really known. He did not show up for the first reporting day of training camp at The Star before the Cowboys went to Oxnard, California.
Had Irving already showed he was responsible, the Cowboys might have opted for a long-term deal with a bigger financial commitment.
But in the NFL, all players are not treated equally. If you are a transcendent performer, you get away with a lot more, such as being a complete jerk to many around you.
With the value placed on sacking the quarterback, Irving looks like a textbook case of someone you want to give a long leash to, especially if his issues do not involve things that are likely to lead to future suspensions. He is just too valuable at what he does. For a team that hates to invest a lot in the DT position, it is mystifying why the Cowboys are signalling in the media that they aren’t that interested in retaining Irving, especially when they have so much control over what happens. This is not a place to be pinching pennies or overvaluing draft picks you may get in return.
Irving could be a real mistake on Dallas’ part if he winds up in another uniform terrorizing quarterbacks. Especially if he is lined up across from the Cowboys.