All signs have for three days been pointing to Greg Hardy being the newest addition to the Dallas Cowboys defense, and not a moment too soon. The only other horse in the race, Tampa Bay, we're told feels used by its inclusion in the process but no matter. With the market for free-agency edge-rushers drying up, Dallas was in the precarious position it found itself in last season: entering the draft with a glaring need at the position. That forced the club to trade up in the 2014 second round (at the cost of a third-rounder) in order to secure the last prospect they saw as a viable threat, Demarcus Lawrence. Now, with the Hardy deal finalized, the Cowboys will have young bookend defensive ends that can wreak havoc on opposing offenses and allow Rod Marinelli’s defense the flexibility he craves.
The question must be asked; as Dallas has inked Hardy to a one-year deal that can max out at $13 million but is so incentive-laded that it counts only $3.2 million against the cap, are the Cowboys now sporting one of the league’s top Front-Seven units?
To begin with, probably not. There is still plenty of question marks surrounding the defense. Will the club be able to secure the rights to a Rolando McClain return? (Those talks are not going well; newly-signed Jasper Brinkley might be your MIKE.) That has the trickle-down effect of moving Sean Lee to weakside linebacker. Of course, there’s still a question mark about how well Lee will be recovered from his ACL surgery last summer. Tyrone Crawford is penciled in as the full-time three-technique defensive tackle. He had a solid season after moving to the position last year and should improve significantly now that he will be focused on those skill sets as opposed to also worrying about playing strongside defensive end.
Speaking of defensive end, who would man the left side for Dallas, Hardy or Lawrence? It’s a question many fans are wondering. The left side end is normally a bit larger than the weakside end, allowing him to play the run as well as rush the passer. The WDE is normally the pressure specialist, only playing the run on the way to the quarterback. In Dallas though, that’s the mantra of the entire defensive front. Does it make a difference who will be on each side as their “normal” home?
Over Hardy’s career, mostly at the beginning, he has spent some time at the left defensive end spot.
|Year||LDE Rush Snaps||LDE Rush Productivity||LDE Sacks||RDE Rush Snaps||RDE Rush Productivity||RDE Sacks||Total Rush Snaps||Total Rush Productivity||Total Sacks|
Pass Rush Productivity is a ProFootballFocus metric that combines sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback pressures, weighting sacks more heavily, to show the total disruption picture for defensive players.
Last year, despite words of hope that Dallas would be able to use Jeremy Mincey inside at times to help with the rotation at the three-technique, he was primarily relegated to right defensive end as Lawrence missed the first half of the season, then spent the second half working his way into the rotation. Anthony Spencer and George Selvie split time at left defensive end. Mincey had the best rate at 9.9 followed by Selvie’s 7.4 and Spencer’s 5.4. The highest rated was actually Crawford in his limited time outside, with a whopping 13.8.
Hardy has shown that while he has experience on the left side, his is much more explosive on the right. Could Dallas and Marinelli look to move Demarcus Lawrence to the left?
It’s a case made even more interesting by the fact that Hardy has been really good at stopping the run his last two full seasons, albeit from the right side. A run stop is when you keep the offense from gaining enough yards to consider a play successful (40% of necessary yardage on first down, 60% of nec. Yardage on second, 100% on third and fourth). Hardy ranked tied for fourth amongst all 4-3 DE’s both in 2013 and 2012.
So in theory, do you leave him be on the right side and move Lawrence left, where he will gain the assistance of strongside linebacker and being on the back end as the team tries to funnel plays to the WILL and hopefully Sean Lee?
That, we hear, is the thinking inside Valley Ranch. "I love him,'' Jeremy Mincey tells CowboysHQ.com. "He fits.'' ... and that "fit'' will be an interesting angle to pursue as Dallas makes its way towards this summer’s workouts and training camp. Who knows, when it's all said and done, with everyone healthy... maybe they'll have answered the earlier question about being a top Front Seven in the affirmative.