Effective today (and likely for the next month) there are two standing members of the Dallas Cowboys’ projected Front Seven still standing. They are Bruce Carter (who’s all but lost his job) and DeMarcus Ware (who’s obviously suffering from injury, age, and lack of surrounding cast).
I know this isn’t news, but the amount of player time lost to this defensive front is, for lack of a better term, staggering. Consider what the team had as of one calendar year ago (adjusting for the 3-4 to 4-3 switch):
Defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent starting, with Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass, and Sean Lissemore as depth (assuming, of course, Lissemore could adjust to life as a 1 or 3 technique, which is questionable - but he’s a quality NFL defensive lineman, and he’s gone). Of those six, one is (somewhat) standing, in Jason Hatcher.
Defensive Ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer would start, with Kyle Wilber as depth. Spencer played part of one game, total. It seems almost inevitable Ware will miss more time with the mélange of breakdowns he’s put his body through the past year and a half.
Nick Hayden signed in February, as a likely camp body. George Selvie signed in July as an almost assured camp body. Hayden is tied for the team’s defensive line lead in tackles; Selvie is second. There’s a very good chance they end the season as the two defensive lineman (and maybe defensive front players) with the most snaps. In a normal season, these two would be rotational players at best; in New Orleans, they were the base of the line.
By my rough count, I see 35 transactions since the start of the calendar year involving defensive linemen- that’s 35 transactions to fill four spots on the field. Twenty of those- 20!- involve defensive tackles. Since the end of training camp, nine defensive lineman have joined the team. On any given game day, 9 is a good number of total lineman to activate.
It’s easy to jump in and bash Jerry the GM here, because he traded out of the slot that Shariff Floyd could have been taken in. Maybe if they hold pat and draft Floyd, he fills out the spot they thought Ratliff would, and most of this chaos doesn’t happen. The other side of that coin is that the trade brought Travis Frederick and Terrence Williams to Dallas; this could well be an article about the Cowboys grabbing centers or wide receivers off the wood pile rather than defensive linemen if that were the case. Most likely, both. And beside that, Frederick and Williams have been pretty good. Of course, this doesn’t offer an excuse for the other five picks, none of which went to down defensive lineman. If I was in the business of making excuses for Jerry, I’d likely be paid a bit more than I am; for one, it seems he needs quite a bit of that work done, and for two, it’s normally pretty high-level Cowboys officials who do it.
But to that point, who could have seen the implosion surrounding the Cowboys defensive line? As stated before, the talent and depth at the position was respectable in April; you could make the case that a line of Ware-Hatcher-Ratliff-Spencer boasted four possible Pro Bowlers. The depth at DE was lacking, but the team was spending almost 21 million dollars worth of cap for Ware and Spencer, and part of the justification of switching to the 4-3 was keeping both of those players going forward on each snap, rather than back. They’d both also been durable; Spencer had missed six games in six years, Ware had started every game for 8 years. The hope was Wilbur would be solid enough to spot a few plays when Ware needed oxygen, and you’d find someone to do the same for Spencer. And- surprise!- they succeeded on that, since Selvie is one of the most surprising players in the NFL this year.
Behind the Emergency Room triage that is the defensive line, both Justin Durant and Sean Lee were injured in New Orleans and could be out for a month each. Durant has been solid but unspectacular; there’s a chance DeVonte Holloman will actually outperform Durant in time. However, Lee is the singular most important piece to the Cowboys defense, since he’s often the only one who actually, you know, knows what to do. Have you ever been to a Wal-Mart when the supervisor has been on vacation for two weeks? Imagine that, but in full pads.
To make the comparison really work, the supervisor has to be on vacation, the department supervisor is asleep, the store manager is focused singularly on, like, keeping the area behind the cash register clean, and the employees were all hired last week. If such a mess actual happened in the world of retail, you could expect the owner to fire the general manager, to be certain. Maybe it’s time for Jerry the Owner to fire Jerry the GM, if I can be controversial for a second.