The Dallas Cowboys are getting back to the facility this week and it’s looking more and more likely that a season will occur and that training camp will start on time. As they continue to look at their roster, right defensive end is still an area they could use a veteran presence in the wake of Robert Quinn’s departure for the Chicago Bears.
There are a couple of players in the free agent market that could make sense, but the one that everyone seems to be the most on board with is former Minnesota Vikings Defensive End Everson Griffen.
It makes sense. Griffen has been one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL over the last four seasons and newly hired defensive assistant for the Dallas Cowboys George Edwards was his defensive coordinator during that time.
Here at InsideTheStar.com, our own Matthew Lenix recently wrote that the Dallas Cowboys should make the move to acquire Everson Griffen. While he could be a fantastic addition, I don’t think he’d be a slam dunk. Here are three reasons why.
In 2020, Everson Griffen is going to be 33 years old. Eventually, age catches up to every player in the NFL. Turning 33 this season, Griffen is right in the time frame for which players historically experience a drop off in production.
Per Pro Football Reference’s database, there have been 63 occasions where a defensive end in age 33 or older since 2010. Of those 63 seasons, only 22 times since 2010 has a player recorded at least five sacks during or after their age 33 season. Of those 22 occurrences of at least five sacks, 15 of them were accomplished by six players who had multiple seasons of at least five sacks.
Only nine players since 2010 have recorded a season with eight or more sacks during or after their age 33 season.
Back in 2013, Tyler Schalter from Bleacher Report analyzed at what age each position experienced a production drop off based on Pro Football Reference’s “Approximate Value,” which attempts to measure production across all position groups.
“After a defensive lineman’s seventh year in the NFL, his time is very, very short. Look at the huge drop-off in qualifying starters from year seven to year eight, and from year nine to year 10. The decline flattens for a while, as the best defensive linemen can stick around a very long time, but the quick development, long plateau and quick decline is obvious.”
Tyler Schalter, Bleacher Report
Now, this doesn’t mean that Everson Griffen will experience a similar drop-off, however, the production tends to drop off as you hit 31 and 32 years old.
For reference, JJ Watt has the highest Approximate Value for a single season since 2010 at 22 during the 2014 season. He followed that up with an AV of 21 in 2015. DeMarcus Lawrence’s best season came in 2017 when he had an AV of 14. Everson Griffen’s best AV came during that same 2017 season when he had an AV of 15.
Since 2010, there have only been six occurrences of a player in their age 33 season or older recording an AV of 10 or better. Calais Campbell and Cameron Wake are the only two to do so in the last four seasons.
Generally, sacks can give us a good measure of production from the defensive end position and Everson Griffen has been one of the best pass rushers the last four seasons. However, the reality is the production generally drops off in sack totals as well. Since 2010, only 12 players aged 32 or older were able to record a 10 sack season. Only five players in the last ten seasons were able to record more 10 or more sacks during their age 33 season or older.
Entering his age 33 season, it’s certainly possible that Griffen bucks the trend set before him. Unfortunately, historical data points to the likelihood that Griffen could experience a drop off in play and production.
2. Young Depth
Just a few weeks ago, I took a stab at the projecting the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster. In that projection, I left off Dorance Armstrong and a ton of people were surprised. With the assumption being that Randy Gregory gets reinstated, the Dallas Cowboys have a lot of players to put on the edge. I simply had a hard time finding a spot for him.
How much more difficult would it be for the Dallas Cowboys to keep their youth on the edge if they were to add another edge rusher to the defensive line. Players like Armstrong, Jalen Jelks, Joe Jackson, and Bradlee Anae already have an uphill battle to make the roster.
New Defensive Coordinator Mike Noland and Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula haven’t had an opportunity to get on the field with these players yet to figure out what they have. Adding a player like Everson Griffen would make it even more difficult to evaluate down roster players. Griffen would likely get a lot of the first-team snaps, which would push Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory to the second-team snaps, therefore pushing guys down the roster even further.
The Cowboys already have several older, veteran edge players on the roster in DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Aldon Smith. Griffen could be a solid addition, but they need to see what they have in some of their young guys as well.
3. Why isn’t He Signed Yet?
Everson Griffen doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to take a contract at this point. He and Jadaveon Clowney are the only two legitimate pass rushers available and the free agent market has stalled out on them. It would be hard to believe that they haven’t received any contract offers since free agency opened up back in March, so it stands to reason that they’re waiting on the right team to come and offer them a sizable one-year deal.
There’s a reason that Everson Griffen isn’t signed yet. It could be money. It could be the shutdown of the league caused by COVID-19. The thing is though, teams have done their due diligence on these players and have opted not to sign them. Of course, teams get things wrong all the time, but teams always need pass rush, so why aren’t they going after one of the better pass rushers left on the market?
The Dallas Cowboys can afford it. The question is, at what price would it be feasible to do it?
We’ve seen in the past some of these veteran one-year deals not work out, leading to a release on cut-down day or early in the season. Nolan Carrol stands out. The downside to taking on a lot of veteran contracts is if the team has to move on from the player, the risk of adding dead money to the cap.
If the Cowboys were to sign him to a deal and it doesn’t work out, the dead money would apply to the already uncertain 2021 salary cap. With the possibility of decreased ticket and stadium revenue, there’s the possibility of an uncapped year in 2021 or at least stagnant salary cap growth.
The Dallas Cowboys can absolutely afford him, but as he enters the twilight of his career, it may not make sense to pay him what a good to great pass rusher should get on the open market.
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The Dallas Cowboys still have question marks at right defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys. Adding someone with his experience and production would help alleviate any concerns the Cowboys might have there. The hope is that Aldon Smith, Randy Gregory, and Bradlee Anae would be able to provide what they need at right edge. But as Smith and Gregory have been out of football for some time and Anae is a rookie without minicamps and OTAs, Griffen makes a ton of sense for the Dallas Cowboys.
Given the drop off that a vast majority of edge players experience at age 32 and 33, Griffen would have to be the exception to the rule for it to work out.