Greg Ellis and New England: Right Player, Wrong Personality?

T.J. DoneganCorrespondent IJune 3, 2009

IRVING, TX - NOVEMBER 23:  Linebacker Greg Ellis #98 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts after a sack against Shaun Hill #13 of the San Francisco 49ers at Texas Stadium on November 23, 2008 in Irving, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Dallas Cowboys have let another productive, veteran player know he is considered surplus to requirements for the 2009 season.

The 11-year veteran Greg Ellis was released by the Cowboys this week. Ellis is the apparent victim of either a very rapid aging process, an on-going health concern that made his contract too much to bear, or Cowboys owner and General Manager Jerry Jones simply being sick of him.

It's an interesting move considering how dominant the Cowboys were rushing the passer last year.

While Ellis slipped noticeable from his 2007 form—when he racked up 12.5 sacks in just 10 starts (13 games total) coming off an Achilles tendon tear—he still managed eight sacks in 16 games alongside teammate DeMarcus Ware's blistering mark of 20.

Jones stated last week that Ellis would be cut if the Cowboys didn't receive a trade offer, which isn't exactly the best negotiating tactic when you're trying to get fair value (or really, any value) from a trading partner.

It seemed to indicate that, for one reason or another, Jones didn't want Ellis (and his $4.15 million salary) in a Cowboys uniform anymore and, likely, didn't care if he got anything in return.

The question is, where does Ellis go from here?

He'll certainly be worked out by teams looking to bolster their pass rush this season. The Bengals, with their second-to-last league mark in sacks last season, have been mentioned.

Some other possible fits for Ellis might be Green Bay, Kansas City, and the New England Patriots. While Ellis infamously grumbled over the switch to a 3-4 OLB from a 4-3 DE, he does have experience in the role, and his best year came from such a hybrid position.

The Chiefs will be re-instituting a 3-4 base scheme with former New England front-office guru Scott Pioli in town, and the Patriots and Bill Belichick were partially responsible for bringing it back en vogue in recent years.

Green Bay is also looking to institute the scheme, drafting the monster, Vince Wilfork-esque B.J. Raji to anchor the line at nose tackle in this year's draft.

The Patriots are the more intriguing option right now, though, given their recent track record of refurbishing castoff veterans—many with character questions—as model NFL citizens once they hit New England.

I can tell you right now, it isn't the food in Foxboro, MA. There's some good places to eat, don't get me wrong, but it's not going to give you the legs of a 24-year-old.

But can the Patriots control a player that has developed a reputation as a malcontent?

There's no room to hold grudges in the NFL: It's a business and you should always treat it that way. But I certainly don't blame Ellis for being a little miffed at being asked to switch from defensive end to outside linebacker in 2006 after eight productive years as an end.

The responsibilities (and ideal body type) of a DE in a 4-3 and an OLB in a 3-4 are, for the most part, wildly different.

At 6'6'', 270 pounds with tons of experience rushing at the NFL level hand-down nose-to-nose with offensive linemen, you're just not built to succeed in the same way coming from the OLB spot where you have to be faster and lighter.

The NFL is, by and large, a numbers game. Ellis knows that as well as anyone. The $4.15 million next to his name is part of the reason he's watching daytime Colbert Report re-runs with the rest of us.

It's also why he had every right to be upset at being asked to play a position that would likely afford him less sack opportunities.

When you make your money in the NFL as a pass rusher, sacks are your most valuable commodity.

Ellis was a very quick end rusher for such a heavyweight, but he would've been at least 20 pounds too small to play as the ideal 3-4 end and about 20 pounds too big to be the ideal 3-4 OLB.

Consternation is the word you'd probably use to best describe how he felt about his NFL future at that point.

Hence the Parcells is setting me up to fail remarks.

At his size, speed, and technique, it was a long-shot for him to succeed quickly as a 3-4 OLB. The fact that he did it in 2007, putting up such amazing numbers that season is testament to his ability as a football player and athleticism at age 32.

The fact that he aired his complaints publicly in the media, prior to the switch being made, shows a personality type that is not generally in line with how the Patriots and the media co-exist.

Still, I think there are far worse "locker room guys" in the NFL than Ellis. He was a team leader in Dallas and was elected as the team's union representative.

I don't know the specifics of his selection as the union rep (I do know it's not a position most guys jump at), but I'd say it's a positive mark on his record.

I think he was immature in complaining about his contract and being asked to switch positions—something the Patriots could ask him to do at some point, when you look at how versatile they often ask their linebackers to be—even if he was justified, in some ways.

However, the NFL is, again, by and large a numbers game. You simply don't often see guys hit the market with his combination of pedigree and production level.

While his age (and the fact Jerry Jones cut him in not-so-discreet fashion) are red flags, any team needing pass-rushing help will be forced to at least kick the tires on Ellis.

Right now, the Patriots are seemingly set at one outside linebacker position with Adalius Thomas and are working in the the re-signed Pierre Woods, the gone-and-back-again Tully Banta-Cain, and Vince Redd at the other spot.

Shawn Crable, who spent half of his rookie year inactive and the other on Injured Reserve, is another option there, as well. The unofficial depth chart has him shading in at inside linebacker, however, despite his ridiculous speed, overall athleticism, and reported pass-rushing instincts.

(Here's a very good breakdown of those four players and what the Patriots look for in an OLB out of college, for extra credit.)

They're hardly secure options right now, and the Patriots could always use a veteran situational rusher, at the very least.

With Ellis's experience the last few years as a 3-4 outside linebacker and the ideal size and body-type of a 5-technique rusher, especially in nickel formations, the Patriots could sign him and mix in some more exotic rush packages and get his hand back in the dirt pre-snap.

Belichick has certainly done crazier things in the past.

The baggage is explainable, but it's still there, and it will certainly limit his options contract-wise.

Regardless, Greg Ellis will play football somewhere, for someone, in 2009.

It could very well be with the Patriots.


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