This is final part of a three-part series about moves the Cowboys need to make this offseason that will spark some debate, and maybe some anger, within the fanbase.
After years of searching for formidable pass rushers, the team appears to have stumbled upon some good fortune with the emergence of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving. Both of these defensive monsters each averaged nearly a sack per game this past season and have become a force in the trenches for the Cowboys defense. Both players are also free agents this offseason, however the front office has some options at their disposal to keep them from leaving town.
For Lawrence, the Cowboys are likely to slap the franchise tag on him to keep other teams from negotiating with him. Both Lawrence and Dallas would like to agree to a long-term deal, but the tag buys them time.
When it comes to Irving, things are a little different as he is a restricted free agent. At some point this month, the team will place a tender on him. The only question is - will it be a first-round tender or a second-round tender? Placing a tender on a player is designed to provide some extra protection should another team decide to sign the player to an offer sheet. The cost of each tender depends on the level of protection the team chooses. For example:
- First-round tender will cost $4.15 million
- Second-round tender will cost $2.9 million
When you look at the dollar amounts, it hardly matters very much whether they choose a first- or second-round tender. Sure, every little bit of cap savings helps, but more important than that is the level of protection they’ll receive in the form of draft picks. Placing a first-round tender on Irving means that should a team sign him to an offer sheet that the Cowboys choose to not match - they would have to surrender a first-round pick in April. Not only would a team be making a financial investment towards Irving, but they would be giving up some pretty substantial draft capital as well. If the Cowboys placed a first-round tender on him, he stands a great chance to play the 2018 season in Dallas.
But if the Cowboys opt to go with a second-round tender, then that changes things considerably. Suddenly, this dangles the carrot of a young, disruptive defensive linemen in front of teams who might consider relinquishing a lesser draft pick. A second-rounder for Irving? Some might consider that a bargain. And the way he’s been playing as of late, it could be a flat out steal.
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
Irving has been a pet cat of mine ever since his rookie season when he started flashing signs of greatness. Despite only playing 205 snaps that season, he still managed to accrue 16 QB hurries. He demonstrated unusual athleticism and used his length to knock down passes plus block a field goal. He’s just so fun to watch. So it’s cringe-worthy to even learn that the Cowboys would even considering dangling that carrot in front of the rest of the teams in the NFL, but that could be a very good possibility and we should try to understand why.
There are a few factors that come to mind as to why the Cowboys would only slap a second-round tender on him.
Not sold on him
All 32 teams passed up on drafting David Irving.
He signed as an UDFA with the Kansas City Chiefs, but didn’t make their roster.
It’s fair to say that he’s had more of his fair share of doubters throughout his career, but he only has himself to blame as he’s made some poor choices in the past that has gotten himself in trouble. He was kicked out of college at Iowa State. He was ejected from a game in 2016 after getting into a scuffle with a lineman on the Cleveland Browns. And this past season, he missed the first four games of the year when he was suspended for violating the leagues drug policy for PED usage.
On the surface, fans see a very effective player. Is he a special player? It sure looks like it, but we only see one side of this. What is he like in the locker room or in team meetings? Does he posses character traits that make you very uneasy about their ability to stay on the field. Availability is ability. It is possible that there are some things going on behind the scenes that are causing the Cowboys organization to proceed cautiously.
They want the draft pick
If the Cowboys have concerns about Irving’s character, then they could have serious doubts about his future with this team. If the outlook is that murky, they could use this opportunity to exploit as much as they can out of some fantastic on-field production. While it’s extremely unlikely a team would sign Irving to an offer sheet if he had a first-round tender, it becomes tempting if the cost was a lesser draft pick. Placing a second-round tender could allow the Cowboys to test the waters and see how interested other teams around the league are.
When you try to compare the talent Irving has to what they could get with a second-round pick, it doesn’t seem worth it. However, you have to remember, this comparison has to be made with the assumption that the team has genuine concerns about Irving’s behavior. Based on that type of assessment, it starts to get a little harder to determine what would be best. Certainly a career filled with suspensions, ejections, or just mentally checking out at times would not be beneficial for the Cowboys. I don’t have to look too far back to see another one of my pet cats, Rolando McClain, completely throw away what could have been a great football career by simply being a head case. McClain was a beast on the field, but there was just something not right with him and the Cowboys lost out on the great upside we were all hoping for.
In hindsight, being able to grab a second-round pick for McClain would’ve been super fantastic. That chance never came, but with Irving, it’s right in front of them. And let’s not kid ourselves, a second-round draft pick is some good draft stock that can be used to help this team. With the level of talent available, they could grab a player who could be a starter on this team for four years and at a low cost to the cap. Or they could package it with another pick and move up to grab one of those late first-round players that they don’t want to reach for at 19. If you believe in Will McClay and the Cowboys scouting department (which you should), a second-round draft pick is not chop liver.
And remember, just because a team is interested in Irving enough to forgo a draft pick, doesn’t mean the Cowboys have to let him get away. Even if a team offered him a deal with appealing terms, Dallas always has the option to match if if they felt he was worth the investment.
David Irving was the team’s standout 3-tech defensive tackle last year, but they’ve had a couple other guys on the team play that spot in past years. Both Maliek Collins and Tyrone Crawford have had their best seasons when they’ve been the team’s starting 3-tech. But because of need, both of them have had to shift over to cover another spot (Collins, the 1-tech, and Crawford, right defensive end).
Not only do they have depth at the 3-tech spot, but it could get even more crowded if the Cowboys draft a young college prospect in April. A couple names that have been surfacing a lot, Vita Vea and Maurice Hurst, could completely shake up the defensive line. If the Cowboys drafted Hurst, it would be because they see him as the team’s star 3-tech of the future. If they drafted Vea, Collins wouldn’t have to play the 1-tech spot and could move back to the 3-tech spot where he had success his rookie season.
Where does that leave Irving? The Cowboys would have an abundance of talent in the middle of the interior line. If they are not high on Irving, then they could reallocate some of their resources to strengthen up another position group on the roster.
I love Irving and would be happy if the Cowboys gave him a first-round tender, but we have to do our best to try to understand how this organization sees things. Why aren’t they as excited about this guy as we are? Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire and if Dallas places a second-round tender on him, they have a very good reason for it. But from our vantage point, we’re just not sure what that reason is.
Make sure to check out these other “unpopular” offseason decisions the Cowboys could make over the next few months...