December 26th, 2017 at 2:48pm CST by GregGoldstein
Now that the Cowboys are no longer in contention for a playoff spot, the team has decided to cut veteran linebacker Justin Durant, reports David Moore of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link). The Cowboys have promoted linebacker Tre’Von Johnson from the practice squad to replace Durant on the active roster.
Durant, 32, was in his fourth year as a member of the Cowboys. He signed with Dallas prior to last season and was also on the team in 2013 and 2014. The veteran linebacker played in just seven games this season due to injury, collecting a combined 13 tackles while on the field.
This was a notable step down from what he’s done in the past as he appeared in double-digit games all but once since he entered the league as a second round pick by the Jaguars in 2007.
Durant was clearly behind fellow middle linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Jaylon Smith on the depth chart, so without anything to play for in Week 17, the coaching staff probably felt that they should get some younger players more exposure to regular season game action.
The Cowboys will face the Eagles in Week 17 in an attempt to finish above-.500 for the second year in a row.
The Chiefs‘ offense bounced back after a rough stretch, going off for 31 points and four Alex Smith touchdown passes in a loss to the Jets. While Kansas City’s defense couldn’t hold up in a shootout, the team will be sticking with the offensive setup that authored the mini-turnaround. OC Matt Nagy will continue to call plays, B.J. Kissel of KCChiefs.com tweets. The 474 yards the Chiefs put up were the most since their 537-yard explosion against the Patriots in Week 1. The Chiefs host the Raiders in what’s close to a must-win game. Nagy has been mentioned as a head-coaching candidate, and these games he has play-calling responsibilities could be a key factor in whether he’ll get that opportunity in 2018.
Here’s the latest from around the league.
Despite a 2018 roster that almost certainly will still house Chandler Jones, Markus Golden and Haason Reddick, the Cardinals are interested in bringing back outside linebacker Kareem Martin, Mike Jurecki of Arizonasports.com tweets. Martin’s a pending UFA and has been a part-time starter since being selected in the 2014 third round. Jurecki notes the team likes Martin’s versatility. Although, Arizona has used plenty of capital in stocking this position already.
The Cowboys will be without Orlando Scandrick, David Irving and Justin Durant against the Giants on Sunday, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. Scandrick suffered two transverse process fractures, while Durant and Irving remain in concussion protocol. The 6-6 Cowboys are clinging to contention and will need to complete a sweep of their NFC East rival to stay in the race.
Justin Pugh will be unavailable for the Giants. The upper-echelon blocker now faces the prospect of heading into free agency on a low note. Pugh’s back injury could force him to IR, Tom Rock of Newsday notes. Pugh said he wants to return this season but is also cognizant of his status. “I don’t want to,” he said of the prospect of being shut down for the season. “(But) I don’t want to make (the injury) even worse. It’s not at a point now where I have to get surgery or anything like that, and I don’t want it to get to that point.” Both Pugh and Weston Richburg, who is on IR, will see their contracts expire at season’s end. Pugh’s played in eight games this season.
Rookie Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson is expected to miss multiple weeks due to an ankle injury sustained against the Falcons, Nick Underhill of The Advocate tweets. A third-round pick, Hendrickson has played in 12 games for the Saints this season as a backup.
The Cowboys announced that they have re-signed linebacker Justin Durant. To make room on the 90-man roster, the team has released cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon.
Durant, a 10-year veteran, has played for four NFL teams, including two stints with the Cowboys. Re-signing him wasn’t necessarily an offseason priority for the Cowboys before, but Durant could provide some depth now that Damien Wilson could face league suspension. It also helps that Durant is familiar with the team’s defense and the 4-3 scheme.
The 31-year-old (32 in September) was a starter for Dallas in 2013 and 2014, but he was a reserve with the team last year. He finished out with 37 tackles and one sack. For his career, Durant has 92 career starts on his resume. He is still looking to replicate his 2012 campaign with Detroit, a season in which he recorded 102 tackles in 16 games. He has not played a full slate of regular season games since.
Outside of an April visit with the Bills, it has been a very quiet offseason for Durant. Now, he’s eager to prove that he still has a place on a 53-man roster.
Justin Durant has not drawn much interest in advance of what would be his 11th NFL season, but the Bills are taking a look at the UFA linebacker. Durant visited the Bills today, Adam Caplan of ESPN.com tweets.
The 10-year veteran has played for four NFL teams, including two stints with the Cowboys, and served exclusively as a component on 4-3 defenses. The Bills planning to pivot back to a 4-3 scheme would seem to make Durant a potential option.
The 31-year-old ‘backer served as a backup on last season’s NFC East champion version of the Cowboys after previously working as a starter in Dallas from 2013-14. Durant has also spent time with the Jaguars, who made him a second-round pick in 2007, along with the Lions and Falcons. He made 37 tackles last season and recorded a sack.
Durant has 92 career starts to his name, the past 12 coming with the Falcons in 2015. Durant’s best season came in 2012 with Detroit, when he made 102 tackles in 16 games. He has not played a 16-game slate since.
Buffalo is thinner on its second level after losing Zach Brown to the Redskins via free agency defection. Currently, the team has Ramon Humber and recently re-signed Lorenzo Alexander slotted as its outside ‘backers. Reggie Ragland is also coming off a season-nullifying injury, so the Bills are in need of at least some depth at linebacker. The Bills did sign former Jaguars defensive end Ryan Davis, a player who converted to linebacker last season in a nomadic year. They previously visited with Brown and Keenan Robinson as UFAs, only to see both wind up in the NFC East.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose brief stint as Denver’s head coach from 2009-2010 was generally a disaster, has more than rehabilitated his reputation since reprising his role as New England OC in 2012. He is mentioned as a top head coaching candidate each offseason, and as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes, McDaniels has never been more decisive about his desire to return to the head coaching ranks than he was when speaking with media this week.
McDaniels said, “[New England] is an incredible place to work, I love being here and I’m happy to do this job as much as I can, as long as they’ll have me. I do want to be a head coach again at some point in my life. I’ve learned a lot over the last so many years and hopefully gained a lot of wisdom and if and when that time comes, I’d look forward to the challenge of doing it again.” Those statements have led Reiss to wonder if McDaniels might be more aggressive about pursuing a head coaching job in the near future.
Now for some more news and notes from the league’s east divisions:
The Dolphins placed Dion Jordan on the non-football injury list today, and there is some intrigue surrounding the move. Per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald (via Twitter), head coach Adam Gase and the rest of the Miami brass were unaware that Jordan had knee surgery prior to his reinstatement, and as Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald tweets, Jordan declined to say how he injured his knee while not playing football since 2014. For what it’s worth, Gase did say that Jordan “has a fresh start with me. Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant” (Twitter link via Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald).
In addition to placing Jordan on the NFI list, the Dolphins made a couple of cornerback moves and activated Arian Foster from the PUP list, according to this team’s official website (via Twitter). Foster practiced with his new club this morning.
The Bills have made a habit of acquiring players with troubled pasts in recent years (see, e.g., Kiko Alonso, Richie Incognito, etc.), and some of those decisions have worked out better than others. But as John Kryk of The Toronto Sun writes, Buffalo GM Doug Whaley is not changing his philosophy in that regard anytime soon, despite the recent troubles of running backs Karlos Williams and Jonathan Williams. Said Whaley, “We always have the same philosophy of taking every player on a case-by-case basis. Granted, we’re disappointed (in the Williamses). But I think what we have here with the support system, with the locker room, the coaching staff, our player-engagement staff, once we get them here I think we do a good job.”
Justin Durant, whom the Cowboys recently signed to give them a viable option at middle linebacker in Rolando McClain‘s absence, was seriously contemplating retirement before coming back to Dallas, according to Clarence Hill of The Star-Telegram. But the 30-year-old Durant said, “You just get that itch. Once I started looking at TV and seeing everybody going back to OTAs and stuff, I just figured I wasn’t done yet. I feel like I still have the ability to play, and I guess this organization felt like I could still play.
Cowboys first-round rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is currently a suspect in a domestic violence report, but there’s skepticism about its veracity from within the organization. One Cowboys source informed Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (Twitter link) that the club thinks a Columbus woman’s allegations that Elliott assaulted her are flat-out untrue, but it warned the ex-Ohio State star to be more careful. Meanwhile, a team source told Josina Anderson of ESPN.com, “The kid, we’ve done our research on him (before he became a Cowboy), it doesn’t point to that (being) part of his nature. That’s all I know.'”
More from the NFL’s two East divisions:
Former Lions head coach and current Eagles assistant Jim Schwartz is deferring to a neophyte, Doug Pederson, in Philadelphia, but he’ll essentially have full autonomy over the defense, writes Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Schwartz, in fact, will be the “head coach on defense,” according to the offensive-minded Pederson. “He fully understands his role, his situation. He loves where he’s at as a coordinator,” Pederson said of Schwartz, who was 29-51 as Detroit’s head coach from 2009-13. Schwartz has accomplished more as a coordinator, including his stint atop a dominant Buffalo unit in 2014. Pederson is cognizant of that, saying, “My expertise is on offense. His is over there on defense. So whether I have suggestions or not, it’s our defense. But at the same time, he’s the master. He’s done it for 100 years. It’s proven. Just like the offense that I’ve been in is proven.”
Sheldon Richardson‘s motivation to land a lucrative contract extension and his full-time return to the Jets’ defensive line could lead to a huge season for the 25-year-old, argues Brian Costello of the New York Post. The Jets will no longer experiment with Richardson at linebacker, where he spent some time in 2015. He’s also entering the penultimate year of his contract and will be eligible to sign an extension after the upcoming season. New York just awarded a high-paying deal to fellow standout D-lineman Muhammad Wilkersonlast week, of course, and Richardson will look to follow in his footsteps in 2017.
Durant, 31, inked a three-year deal with a base value of $10.8MM with Atlanta following the ’15 season. Unfortunately, he did not give the Falcons the kind of production they were expecting. In 13 games (12 starts), Durant tallied 81 tackles and three pass deflections. It’s possible that a return to the Cowboys could rejuvenate Durant’s career and allow him to put up the kind of production that he did in 2014.
The Cowboys are talking to linebacker Justin Durant about a potential reunion, Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports tweets. Durant could give Dallas some needed depth at linebacker while Rolando McClain is suspended.
Durant, 31 in September, spent the 2015 season with the Falcons but was released by Atlanta in February. Prior to that, Durant spent two years in Dallas. Durant may not be a superstar, but he does offer some familiarity with Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli‘s playbook and that’s a major plus as the team faces ten games without McClain. Durant also offers versatility having played at different linebacker spots during his time with the Cowboys.
In 2015, McClain graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 28 linebacker (subscription required). In his suspension-shortened season, McClain recorded 80 total tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 pass deflections. After being slapped with a 10-game ban, it appears that McClain has entered stage three of the stage three of the league’s substance policy for marijuana. McClain has always been regarded as a highly-talented linebacker but his off-field issues have hampered him throughout his NFL career.
Durant inked a three-year deal with a base value of $10.8MM with Atlanta following the ’15 season. Unfortunately, he did not give the Falcons the kind of production they were expecting. In 13 games (12 starts), Durant tallied 81 tackles and three pass deflections. He has not played a full 16 game season since 2013.
Last week, PFR’s Dallas Robinson ran down potential solutions for Dallas at linebacker, including Durant.
For the second consecutive season, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain will serve a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse. In 2015, Dallas only had to survive without McClain for a quarter of the season, but given that McClain is facing a 10-game ban for 2016, the Cowboys will need to more seriously consider how they’re going to make up for the loss of their middle linebacker.
We’ve examined how Dallas might go about finding a replacement for McClain, looking at players already on the Cowboys’ roster, free agents sitting on the open market, and veterans who could be on the roster bubble with their respective clubs. Let’s dive in…
The primary name being floated to replace McClain in the middle is third-year linebacker Anthony Hitchens, whom the Cowboys selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Thing is, Hitchens was already a starter — he played on the inside in McClain’s absence last year, and then moved to the outside, ultimately seeing action on about half of Dallas’ defensive snaps. So if Hitchens is being counted on to man the middle full-time, including in sub packages, the Cowboys would need to find a replacement at strong-side linebacker, meaning Kyle Wilber and/or Andrew Gachkar could see meaningful snaps after spending most of their respective careers as special teams players.
Gachkar, meanwhile, is another option to fill in at middle linebacker, and he has experience at the position. If chosen, Gachkar would likely be a two-down player, as Pro Football Focus’ grades have shown him to be effective against the run but a liability in pass coverage. The 27-year-old has never been a major defensive contributor — he was forced to step into the starting lineup when the Chargers suffered a variety of injuries at the linebacker position in 2014, but even then, he only played on 36.5% of San Diego’s defensive snaps.
The “wild card” in this race is second-year player Mark Nzeocha, according to Bryan Broaddus of the Cowboys’ website. A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, Nzeocha only appeared in two games during his rookie season, managing 14 snaps, all of which came on special teams. Extremely athletic, Nzeocha was all over the field at Wyoming, playing safety and all three linebacker positions. His learning curve might be steep, but he clearly has all the physical tools to play the position.
A source tells PFR that the Cowboys are, for the most part, satisfied with the current state of their linebacker room, and are looking forward to have their young players compete for playing time while McClain is suspended. Dallas, says the source, hasn’t shown a lot of interest in scouring the free agent market for substitutes, so one of Hitchens, Gachkar, or Nzeocha might be the favorite to earn significant snaps this fall.
Donald Butler — After selecting Denzel Perryman in 2015 and Joshua Perry in this year’s draft, the Chargers parted ways with Butler, who had spent the past five seasons with the club. At age-27, Butler is the youngest free agent option on this list, but he’s coming off the worst season of his career, having posted just 40 tackles during the 2016 campaign. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune accused Butler of “losing interest” after receiving a massive extension prior to the 2014 season, so perhaps some other clubs have made that same assessment.
Justin Durant — Durant started 12 games for the Falcons last year, but prior to his time in Atlanta he spent two seasons with the Cowboys, so at the very least he’d offer some familiarity with Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli‘s playbook. Versatility is another point in Durant’s favor, as he played mostly inside linebacker with Atlanta and Detroit, roamed the middle during his Jacksonville tenure, and moved between both positions with the Cowboys.
A.J. Hawk — The Bengals signed Hawk to a two-year deal before the 2015 campaign, but despite injuries limiting fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict to just 10 games, Hawk rarely saw the field, playing on roughly a quarter of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps. Hawk recently told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer that although he’s aware a club might not express interest until late in camp (or perhaps after the season begins), he’s staying in shape in the hopes of receiving a phone call.
David Hawthorne — Like Durant, Hawthorne offers positional versatility, having seen action at both inside and outside linebacker. In 2015, Hawthorne was shifted to the weak side in favor of rookie Stephone Anthony, but was then benched, declared inactive, and ultimately released after an unproductive season. Still, he’s got 83 career starts under his belt, and would presumably feel comfortable in the middle of the Dallas defense.
Keep reading for more external options that could be on the Cowboys’ radar…
Curtis Lofton — There’s no getting around the fact that 2015 was a bad year for Lofton. The 30-year-old graded as one of the four worst linebackers in the entire league, according to PFF, and was benched late in the season. However, Lofton recently admitted that he’d undergone offseason knee and ankle surgeries, so it’s fair to wonder if injuries limited him during the season. He’s always been an above-average force against the run, and he’s expressed a desire to continue his career in 2016.
Joe Mays — Having bounced around the league for the duration of his career, Mays has never seemed to be any club’s first option. But he’s always filled in when needed, and he’s never been abysmal when doing so. Mays is a run-stuffer, and probably shouldn’t be on the field for passing downs, but he also adds special teams value, and would certainly sign for the veteran’s minimum.
DeMeco Ryans — Ryans is probably the player on this list about whom I’m the least confident. Physically, he could be nearing the end — after suffering two ruptured Achilles during his career, Ryans struggled against both the run and the pass last year,
and with 10 NFL seasons in his rearview mirror, he has quite a bit of tread on his tires. But Ryans has always been viewed as a cerebral player, so adding a veteran with his level of mental acumen could be an appealing option for the Cowboys. Ryans, for what’s it worth, has said that he’d like to continue playing.
Stephen Tulloch— Tulloch might be the most high-profile name on this list, at least at the moment, given that he was finally released by the Lions this week after months of speculation. Detroit waited so long to execute the move to avoid paying an injury guarantee, as Tulloch had undergone surgery earlier this year. Clearly, that could give some clubs pause as they inquire on Tulloch’s health, but he was evidently able to pass a physical prior to his release, and he managed to hold up for 15 games last season.
Veterans on roster bubbles:
Jon Bostic, Lions — Due to a variety of factors, Bostic might not be leaving Detroit any time soon. First, Lions general manger Bob Quinn was formerly the Patriots’ director of scouting, so the fact that he acquired Bostic from New England could mean he has an affinity for the former Florida Gator. Second, Detroit recently released veteran linebacker Stephen Tulloch, meaning there could be room for Bostic on the Lions’ roster. But if he were to be cut loose during the next few months, I’d imagine the Cowboys would show some level of interest. Or perhaps Bostic, who’s already been dealt twice during his career, could be had via trade once again.
Arthur Brown, Ravens — A former second-round pick, Brown has completely fallen out of favor in Baltimore, as he’s played only 10 defensive snaps during the past two seasons combined. But with Daryl Smith no longer on the Ravens’ roster, there could be room for Brown to earn playing time, if he can finally put it all together. Brown is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and doesn’t look to have a real future with Baltimore, so it’s conceivable the club finally cuts bait this summer.
Bruce Carter, Jets — Entering his age-28 season, Carter evidently didn’t attract much free agent interest after being released by the Buccaneers earlier this year, as he settled for a one-year, minimum salary benefit contract with the Jets. New York, however, has not only re-signed Erin Henderson to play opposite David Harris at inside linebacker, but spent a first-round pick on Ohio State’s Darron Lee, who would likely be the next man up if either Harris or Henderson suffered an injury. Carter, then, could potentially be available in the next few months, and could be especially attractive to the Cowboys given that he spent 2011-14 in Dallas.
Christian Jones, Bears — In just his second NFL campaign, Jones, a former undrafted free agent, started 13 games on the inside, leading all Bears linebackers in snaps. And though he graded as the league’s No. 38 linebacker per PFF, Chicago sought to replace him this offseason, inking both Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman to multi-year deals. Jones has since been moved to outside ‘backer, but Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com recently projected that he would be a surprise cut. Given that Jones is only 25 years old, the Bears could conceivably get something in return via trade.
Nate Palmer, Titans — It’s not a good sign that the Packers, who have a lengthy history of inside linebacker problems, waived Palmer earlier this year. Tennessee evidently saw something they liked and claimed Palmer, but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to earn a role on the team. The Titans are projected to start Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson at middle linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, according to Roster Resource, while free agent signee Sean Spence — who has a history with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau — is the top reserve on the inside, meaning Palmer could be the odd man out.
Perry Riley, Redskins — The 28-year-old Riley is the only veteran on this subsection of the list who is making serious money, and Washington could save $4MM by releasing him this summer. And given that he’s not expected to be a starter, Perry could certainly be in danger of losing his roster spot. Will Compton will start at inside linebacker next to Mason Foster, whom the Redskins re-signed to a two-year deal. Riley will compete for a role with former Steelers special teams ace Terence Garvin, who was handed a $75K guarantee over the offseason.
The Falcons announced that they have cut linebacker Justin Durant and William Moore. Today is the first day that teams are allowed to release players and the Falcons wasted little time in dropping two of their veterans.
“We want to thank both of these guys for their commitment and work ethic,” head coach Dan Quinnsaid. “They battled through injuries to give everything they had for their teammates this season and I will always be appreciative of that.”
Durant, 31 in September, inked a three-year deal with a base value of $10.8MM less than one year ago. Durant got big bucks from Atlanta but he did not deliver the kind of production they were hoping for. In 13 games (12 starts), Durant tallied 81 tackles and three pass deflections. Durant has not played a 16 game season since 2013 and he was not able to snap that streak in 2015. Now, he’ll be spending 2016 elsewhere.
Moore, a former Pro Bowler, was a starting safety for Atlanta, racking up 51 tackles and two interceptions in 11 games last season. Unfortunately, injuries held him back and his season formally ended on December 15th when he was placed on IR. In total, Moore spent seven seasons in Atlanta, playing in 76 games with 72 starts and earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2012. Moore amassed 481 tackles (319 solo) with 16 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and 38 passes defensed during his time with the Falcons.