As the 2012 regular season came to an end, the Cowboys had decided that Butler was expendable. At the time, this made some sense given that Dallas was making a significant leap back to its historic 4-3 defensive scheme to be installed by new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
As training camp opened last weekend in Oxnard, Calif., the Cowboys were bitten again by the injury bug that plagued them last season.
Second-year veteran Tyrone Crawford, a hybrid defensive lineman, fell with an Achilles injury within the first hour of the first practice. This was supposed to be Crawford's time to shine in a scheme he was familiar with following his college years at Boise State. That will have to wait until at least 2014.
The same could be said for eight-year veteran Jay Ratliff, an interior defensive lineman who has spent much of his professional career as Dallas' second-best pass-rusher behind DeMarcus Ware. Ratliff missed a lot of time last season due to injury and now has a hamstring that's not cooperating.
In the wake of these injuries, was it a good idea to let Butler, a four-year veteran, slip away to the New Orleans Saints?
To this point, that decision probably didn't do Butler or the Cowboys any favors. Butler suffered a torn ACL in June during Saints minicamp activities, which will keep him out of action for 2013. Who knows if the same thing would have happened if he were still in Dallas, but that is not the point of the discussion.
The idea was that Crawford would likely back up Anthony Spencer, a former outside linebacker, along with Ware, who is moving up to the line to play defensive end in Kiffin's new alignment.
Well, that's not going to happen either given Crawford's status.
Compounding the problem for Dallas is the successful knee surgery that Spencer underwent this week, which will keep him out for most or all of training camp. He is playing under the franchise tag for the second consecutive season and will earn $10.6 million in 2013.
Assuming that Butler had stayed and was healthy, Dallas would have had a player who can rush the passer. The Cowboys' salary cap situation obviously made keeping him prohibitive, especially given his two-year, $3 million contract signed in March. But that's little more than peanuts in the world of NFL salaries.
This is what happens when bloated and undeserved contracts are offered to players like Miles Austin and Doug Free. The team ends up with no money for more important players, and there's no more important player, aside from a quarterback, than a pass-rusher.
Butler chalked up just 11 sacks during his four seasons in Dallas, but remember that he did so with limited playing time. He was never going to unseat Ware or probably Spencer, but Butler was active and experienced.
We can't say the same thing about Crawford, although I do believe he's going to be a key player in Dallas once he's healthy, even if it is not at defensive end. I still think he's best suited to play defensive tackle given his size.
But for now, Dallas has to wonder if letting a pass-rusher with proven ability walk away into the NFL wilderness was a good call.
Dallas seems to think that just one guy can create the same dynamic for the Cowboys.
How's that working?
Dallas selected no pass-rushing specialists in the 2013 NFL draft and acquired no free agents.
Perhaps the recent signings of veteran defensive linemen George Selvie and Landon Cohen will help soften the blow felt by losing Crawford. Maybe they can jump in and plug some gaps while Ratliff and Spencer try to get healthy.
The bottom line is this: A team cannot have enough pass-rushers in today's NFL—and the Cowboys don't look like they have enough.
But rest easy: America's Team is well stocked at tight end.
All contract data courtesy of Spotrac.com.
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