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Free Agent Overview: Durant’s Second Stint Not Flashy, But Still Productive
With the NFL offseason now officially underway, it’s never too early to start focusing on the next order of business, which is free agency. The Cowboys have 20 unrestricted free agents who can sign with other teams starting on March 9, unless they strike a new deal with the Cowboys before then.
Over the next two weeks, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will break down each free agent, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and the possibilities of a return in 2017.
Today, we’ll continue the series with linebacker Justin Durant.
What’s The Deal: By the time Durant first came to the Cowboys in 2013, he already had six NFL seasons under his belt. A second-round pick by Jacksonville in 2007, the linebacker started 42 of his 50 games played over the next four seasons, and then followed that up with a two-year stint in Detroit where he produced a career-high 103 tackles in 2012. Unfortunately, his first swing through Dallas was largely marred by injuries. He appeared in 10 games during the 2013 campaign, but then saw action in only six the next year, although he did have one of his three career interceptions and also recovered a fumble that season. After a one-year try in Atlanta, Durant quietly signed back with the Cowboys just before the start of the 2016 training camp to provide some defensive depth, a move that proved to be a shrewd one as he finished with 54 tackles, ranking third among club linebackers and seventh overall on the team. He also had his first full sack since the 2011 season, six quarterback pressures and four passes defensed, all of which topped All-Pro teammate Sean Lee.
Cowboys Highlight: Statistically, Durant has had better games. For instance, in a Sunday night matchup against the Saints on Sept. 28, 2014, he led the team with eight tackles, hauled in a tipped pass for an interception and forced a fumble in a 38-17 rout over New Orleans. But never has his impact perhaps been felt more than against the rival Redskins in Week 2 of this past season. With Dallas clinging to a 27-23 lead and desperate to avoid a 0-2 start to the year, Washington faced a fourth-and-1 at its own 44-yard line with two minutes left. When Kirk Cousins then tried to connect with receiver Pierre Garçon in the right flat, Durant was able to knock the ball away and the Cowboys took over on downs. But just prior to his deflection, on third down, he and Lee had burst through the line to stuff running back Chris Thompson for no gain, and Durant also made a nice tackle two plays before that to limit the Redskins to a 2-yard pickup. Durant didn’t start a game all year, but when it was crunch time, he was on the field to help secure a Dallas win.
Argument to Keep: Durant isn’t flashy, and he’s not your best option as a starter, but as he proved in 2016, he can provide valuable depth. He seems to understand his role and plays it well. Every team needs grinders like him.
Argument to Let Go: Age is definitely a factor. Durant will turn 32 next September, which in terms of NFL linebackers is borderline ancient. And since you basically know what you’ve got in him, the Cowboys may elect to go with someone younger who has more upside.
Bryan Broaddus’ Scout’s Take: One of the most respected player in the locker room by the coaches and teammates. Imaged it was difficult for him to come back this season after retiring to spend more time with his family. Coaches and trainers did a really nice job of getting him ready to play when it would have been real easy for them to throw him into the mix from the word “Go”. Tremendous work ethic and competes. Outstanding physical and mental toughness. High level of football intelligence. Might not have the skills he once had but put himself in position to make key defensive plays throughout the season. Better short area quickness than foot speed. Would win by being smart. Knows how to avoid blocks and keep himself free. Better technique player with hand use than power or strength. Consistent in the way that he played. Never thought of him as a liability while on the field. Only true concern was with his health. Had trouble staying healthy in the latter portion of his career. Was the bridge that got Damien Wilson ready to play.
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