With Justin Durant, Dallas Cowboys Add Stopgap Starter and Depth at Linebacker

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 26, 2013

Dec 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions outside linebacker Justin Durant (52) reacts to play against the Chicago Bears during 2nd Half of a game at Ford Field. Bear won 26-24.     Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the free-agency period, the Dallas Cowboys have had two glaring holes on defense—one at free safety and the other at the Sam linebacker spot. And until now, they weren't able to address either need due to limited salary cap space.

But they restructured eight contracts and are now reportedly on the verge of saving some cash by signing Anthony Spencer and Tony Romo to long-term deals. Under those circumstances, they've found a way to finally add an unrestricted free agent to the roster, becoming the 31st NFL team to do so this offseason. 

The team has agreed to terms on a two-year contract with veteran linebacker Justin Durant according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, who notes that the deal won't be signed until the 'Boys can secure the cap room to include Durant on payroll. 

Interesting maneuvering from the 'Boys, who must feel they need some support for Kyle Wilber, Alex Albright and Ernie Sims, all of whom are options for the open linebacker spot beside Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. 

Otherwise, why spend even a dollar on yet another good-but-not-great player? After all, this is a team that is still going to have to find a way to free up a few million bucks to sign draft picks and late additions in the summertime. They're also slated to be about $20 million over the cap next offseason, and this won't make that situation any easier. 

On the bright side, this indisputably makes the Cowboys' defense better. Durant, who is only 27 but has 67 career starts under his belt, was rated by Pro Football Focus as the eighth-best run-defending 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL in 2012. 

Albright has 230 career snaps on his résumé, while Wilber has just 16. Both have shown positive glimpses but are young and unproven. Sims has starting experience and was brought back over Dan Connor, but was rated by PFF as the worst defender on the team last season. So having another option is nice.

Whether or not it's worth the cost and commitment is debatable, and we won't know if such a move will pay off until we've had a chance to see Durant go toe-to-toe with those he's competing with for reps this summer. If he wins the starting job and makes the types of plays in run defense he did this past season with the Lions, the Cowboys will be happy they took the chance.