The Dallas Cowboys sure like to take chances when it comes to finding their edge rushers. The team has employed many different strategies from drafting, to free agency, to making trades in hopes to find quality players to rush after the quarterback. Another way they have tried is signing players that, one way or another, find themselves in some kind of trouble.
The Cowboys have quite a sad streak going when it comes to having one of their key pass rushers miss time due to some type of suspension. The players change (mostly), the reasons differ (mostly), but you can almost set your watch to the idea that someone’s going to be suspended for the first part of the season.
In 2015, the Cowboys took a chance on Greg Hardy. They had just gone through their first year without DeMarcus Ware and the team was at a loss for what they were going to do at defensive end. Hardy did have double-digit sacks his prior two full seasons in the league, including a 15-sack performance in 2013. He was suspended for 10 games to start the 2015 season, but got it reduced to just four games. He only cost the Cowboys $3 million in cap space, and Hardy played okay by putting up six sacks, forcing a fumble, and even had a pick. He stayed out of trouble but was troublesome internally in the locker room for the Cowboys and wasn’t brought back the following season. The Cowboys PR department, however, faced heavy scrutiny for even giving him a shot.
In 2016, DeMarcus Lawrence was suspended the first four games after violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. It was a tough year for the suspended/injured pass rusher as the then third-year player only started three games and recorded just one sack. Many wondered if the guy the team traded up to get in 2014 was starting to flame out. He wasn’t. Lawrence responded the following year with 14.5 sacks earning All-Pro honors. While there is a meanness within this QB soul-snatching edge rusher, Tank has asserted himself as one of the high-character guys on the team.
In 2017, Randy Gregory missed the entire season after repeatedly failing drug tests. He had previous been suspended four games, and then 10 more in 2016. Gregory got to play in 2018, and he had six sacks opposite Lawrence. Unfortunately, he was again suspended last year, missing the entire 2019 season. It is unclear what the future holds for Gregory and fans are crossing their fingers that we get another chance to see him play this upcoming season.
In 2018, it was David Irving’s turn to keep the streak going. For the second straight season, Irving was suspended the first four games of the year for violating the league substance abuse policy. It was disappointing news because play for play, when Irving was on the field, he was one of the most disruptive presences on the defensive line. He had seven sacks in 2017 despite playing just eight games. One couldn’t help wonder what he could do if he could just keep his head together. Sadly, that was never meant to be as he retired from football last year after again failing another drug test.
Even a great character guy like Robert Quinn wasn’t immune to running into trouble. A drug that he reportedly takes for his anti-seizure medicine produced a positive test for PED’s and Quinn was suspended for two games to start the season last year. A one-time All-Pro back in 2013 when he put up 19 sacks, Quinn looked like his old self as he led the Cowboys in sacks with 11.5 last season. He played so well, he priced himself out of Dallas as he signed a big money deal with the Chicago Bears this offseason.
As you can see, the Cowboys have quite the trend going.
So when the team just recently signed one of the most troubled pass rushers the league has seen in quite some time - well, I think we have a good idea who could be next. Aldon Smith’s past is full of problems, you can go check them out on your own if you’re interested.
From the Cowboys perspective, Smith is a low-risk investment, save the PR hit they take by signing him. On the plus side, Smith is a former All-Pro that put up 19.5 sacks the year before Quinn had 19. He’s also worked first hand with new Cowboys defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who happened to be the San Francisco 49ers defensive line coach back when Smith was terrorizing quarterbacks. For the Cowboys to go down this path, Tomsula must see a side to this that has a chance of working out favorable.
Smith doesn’t have to be the beast he once was. Providing quality snaps as he works into the rotation would be fantastic. Only time will tell if this experiment pans out, but if you’re hoping the Cowboys streak of having a pass rusher suspended comes to an end, the odds may not be in your favor.