Even though the Cowboys may be tempted to bring back Hatcher to help fill the huge void on their defensive line, they should allow him to take his talents elsewhere.
Jason Hatcher will be 32 years old and entering his ninth year in the league by the time the NFL season comes around. That means there is not a lot of long-term value for Hatcher since he will most likely see a decline in his production as he ages. According to Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter, the average career of a NFL defensive lineman with at least five years of defensive starts is 10.55 years. Also, Schalter saw a huge drop off in the numbers of defensive linemen that still were productive from years nine to 10. These metrics show that it is not smart to pay Hatcher expecting similar production in future years to what he had in 2013.
Hatcher is coming out of a breakout year. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hatcher graded out at +27.3, good for eighth best among defensive tackles. This will likely inflate Hatcher's value and cause him to get more money on the open market, which should push him out of a reasonable price range for the Cowboys.
According to NFL.com, Melton was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and his agent Jordan Woy has stated interest in Melton playing for the Cowboys. Melton had his best year in 2012 when Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli held the same position for the Bears. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Melton had a grade of +15.8, which is very respectable for a defensive tackle.
Melton is coming off a year cut short by a torn ACL. While that may give some pause, it may help the Cowboys get Melton for a low price tag. If the Cowboys can get Melton at a lower price tag coupled with his younger age, he could be a bargain.
However, the draft is where the real bargains are:
The best option to get a defensive tackle may be to fill that void in the draft. A player like Aaron Donald would fit perfectly into Marinelli's defense. The benefit to drafting a defensive tackle high in the draft would be their age and price tag. Any player would come in at a "wholesale" price, but he could produce at a high level.
With the Cowboys' salary-cap situation, they need to stretch their money as much as possible. The best way for the Cowboys to do that would be to let Jason Hatcher walk and either sign Henry Melton or draft a defensive tackle high in the draft.
As evidenced by parting ways with DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys are not afraid to part with players who have made a significant impact but don't come at a good price. This gives fans hope the Cowboys will make the right decision and let Hatcher play somewhere else in 2014.
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