1. The emergence of Anthony Spencer
Anthony Spencer’s play in 2009 was undoubtedly the number one reason Dallas was able to maintain the second-ranked defense in the league. His seven sacks do not do him justice, as he was creating havoc in the backfield from week one. Once the first sack came, the rest followed in bunches.
Perhaps just as important as sacks is quarterback hits. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Spencer was first among all linebackers in quarterback hits with 26. In comparison, Demarcus Ware was second with just 17. Statistically, Spencer got in position to obtain many more sacks than he did. Expect his sack total to possibly double in 2010.
Further, Spencer is perhaps the best outside linebacker in the league versus the run. He led all 3-4 outside linebackers in tackles with 56. Spencer’s ability to stop the run goes unappreciated by most of those analyzing his success in 2009, but it is nearly as important as his sacks.
Bringing in Julius Peppers would create a multitude of problems. With the money he would receive, he would have to start over Spencer.
But is he an upgrade?
We would argue not. He would be a downgrade against the run, and any increase in sacks that Peppers would bring would be negated by the fact that the team would be setting back Spencer, one of the league’s up-and-coming stars.
Those who know the team know that Spencer broke out in 2009, but we expect him to really break out next season. In fact, we would go as far as to say that we would be surprised if he does not make the Pro Bowl.
2. His age
Peppers is 30-years old. That certainly isn’t too old to make plays, but when taking into consideration who he is replacing, the move just does not make sense.
Again, the team would be setting back the development of a younger player who may not even be a downgrade. It is better to allow a young player to gain experience than to make a mistake, both in talent evaluation and financially, on an older player.
3. Ability to sign other players
The NFL’s new Final Eight plan limits the Cowboys’ ability to sign free agents this offseason. In fact, the team is only allowed to obtain one big-money guy, meaning Peppers would force Dallas to upgrade all of the other need areas through the draft.
The draft is certainly the primary tool through which teams can improve, but immediate impacts generally come from free agents, and there are certainly positions which could benefit from a free agent signing more than outside linebacker.
4. No 3-4 experience
Speaking of outside linebacker, it is a position that Julius Peppers have never even played. He is a 4-3 defensive end. Although Peppers claimed last season he was interested in playing outside linebacker for a 3-4 team, it is a task in which he has never taken part.
That is not to say that Peppers doesn’t have the tools or ability to make the transition, but why take the chance? Peppers is nearly 30 pounds heavier than Spencer. This would certainly limit his ability to drop into coverage effectively, another task he has not performed on a consistent basis.
5. Brandon Williams and Victor Butler
Williams and Butler, two rookie selections from last season, are the current backups at outside linebacker. While you would like a bit more experience behind Ware and Spencer, at a certain point you just have to give the young guys a shot. Who knows where the Cowboys would have finished last season had Miles Austin not been given a chance to perform.
Williams was injured in ‘09, but Butler showed some signs of being an effective pass rush specialist. He needs to add bulk, but there may be some situations where he could be counted on to come in and hold down the fort while Ware or Spencer get a breather.
Further, if the team does want to upgrade the backup spot, there are certainly more logical options than adding a 30-year old 4-3 defensive end who will command a huge contract.
6. Poor attitude and takes plays off
The Cowboys just finished ridding themselves of players they deemed distractions in the locker room (T.O., Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones).
Why bring in a player who is known for having a poor attitude? Although we think team chemistry is somewhat overrated, the team obviously placed an emphasis on it last offseason so there is no reason to mess with that now.
More important than his off-field attitude is Peppers’ on-field play. We are in no way doubting his skill set, but there have been rumblings of Peppers taking plays off. While we have not watched enough film on him to say for sure, the fact that former teammates of the Panthers’ star have called him out is discouraging.
Overall, replacing a young player who is a key component of the Dallas defense with an aging veteran who has never played in a 3-4 defense and is known to not give 100 percent just isn’t an option for the Cowboys.