There are certain things an NFL franchise can never have too many of. Lombardi trophies, draft picks, platforms for go-go dancers at their home stadiums… these are just a few that immediately come to mind. Also in this category, clubs can never have enough pass rushers. With a defensive system like the Cowboys, where the goal is to send waves of pressure at opposing quarterbacks, multiple pass rushers is a mighty fine thing. With that in mind, Dallas might want to consider contacting the representatives for free agent Dwight Freeney and see if there might be some mutual interest.
On Tuesday, the 14-year veteran made the rounds to SiriusXM’s NFL channel and talked with his former GM Bill Polian and host Alex Marvez. He spoke of wanting to find the right situation for where he is now at in his career.
"A lot of it is up in the air," Freeney said. "I have aspirations to play, but the thing is I have to be in the right situation for me. I can't get put in a situation where I'm running away from the ball. I want to run toward the guy with the ball more than I'm running away."
Freeney played last season in San Diego’s 3-4 system, which puts more responsibility on its edge rushers to drop back in coverage situations than defensive ends in a 4-3. With only 3.5 sacks in his nine starts, one might think Freeney has little left in his tank. However, he had 40 QB Hurries and 53 total quarterback pressures. Those numbers were better than anything produced by a 2014 Cowboys player. Freeney's Pass Rush Productivity metric of 11.0 ranked 6th of all 3-4 outside linebackers last year, and topped Jeremy Mincey's (who led Dallas) 9.9. Freeney was 12th in the entire league of edge rushers.
Of course, Dallas has augmented their pass rush in 2015 with the addition of Greg Hardy and the drafting of Nebraska end Randy Gregory. They also will have Demarcus Lawrence for a full season after he missed the first half of 2014 with a foot injury and was slow to immerse himself in the second half of the year. Gregory is expected to be a rotational pass rusher this season. The Cowboys also have a slew of other young ends, including redshirt rookie Ben Gardner and fifth-round pick Ryan Russell out of Purdue. Also in the mix will be British import Efe Obada, who will likely spend the season on the exempt-practice squad, reserved for foreign players and won’t count against the 10-man limit.
Beyond what Freeney could produce on the field, having someone with his pedigree could do wonders for the young Cowboys ends. A seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time First Team All-Pro, Freeney’s resume is beyond reproach. Freeney could teach the young guys a lot, from pass rushing techniques to physical preparation and longevity. Dallas hasn’t had a pass-rushing mentor since DeMarcus Ware left after the 2013 season. Freeney’s insight could be valuable to Gregory, as Dwight played with a great opposite end who was also very light, Robert Mathis.
Greg Hardy is a sack-master with 29 in his last two full seasons, but he has only been at the top of the game for a few years. Even he could learn from someone with Freeney’s accomplishments.
Freeney could also help out immensely over the first quarter of the season when Hardy is suspended and won’t be available. His worth would ultimately end up being in a reserve role, maybe at 13-17 snaps a game, but with the rotation behind him, if Freeney has anything left in the tank he could serve as a plus stop-gap until Hardy returns.
This is all contingent on a couple of factors. One, Freeney has to be willing to come to Dallas for a price suitable for the club. Would $2 or $2.5 million do the trick? After projecting Hardy’s 12-game bonuses, Dallas will have just under $12 million of cap space. Setting aside money for in-season signings and rolling over space into next season, Dallas can afford a couple million to take their rush to the next level. Freeney would likely have to accept a prove-it, one-year deal with little guaranteed money. If he’s amenable to this, than he could use training camp to prove his worth and possibly help Dallas’ defense improve.
Dallas has always stated they prefer to be right up against the cap because they believe that is the best way to compete for a championship. Despite this type of signing not being their M.O., it would truly encompass their apparent belief that 2015 could be "the year". Contrast last year's rotation with the image of Marinelli picking from Hardy, Lawrence, Freeney, Gregory, Jeremy Mincey, Gardner and Russell, with various members sliding inside next to Tyrone Crawford. That would be a scary thought indeed for all opposing offensive coordinators.