Mailbag: Hitchens Make Durant Expendable? How Can Harris Be Replaced?

RAYMOND BIGGERSHOUSTON, TEXAS
Which part of Dwayne Harris' game will be the hardest to replace? His return ability, his receiving skills or covering kicks?

Nick: Honestly, I think the hardest part will be the coverage units. If Devin Street comes on like he should, that's your fourth receiver and even though he's not the same type of player, the Cowboys don't really need that smaller, quick, possession-type after re-signing Beasley. The return game will take a hit but the Cowboys can find players there. Beasley can field punts and I don't think you put a lot of time wondering about the kick return when most teams are getting touchbacks anyway. Finding that blue-collar, fearless player to run down and sacrifice his body to make the tackle isn't something that all teams have and I think that will be the toughest part of Harris' game to replace. 

Bryan: I think it's just the overall toughness that he brings to the game each week. It didn't matter what they asked him to do – he was able to accomplish that. I don't always throw out the word elite when taking about a player but Harris was that in the way he played the game. Fans wanted to get on him for the struggles in the return game but if you really study what was going on in the execution of the assignments and how blocks were carried out – you would have a whole different approach to the job he really did. The not only set the tone in the way he covered kicks and punts but there wasn't a better point of attack blocker on the receiving unit than him. Replacing him and his 500 snaps a season will be no easy task.

AL NIXONFAIRHOPE, ALABAMA
Did the versatility of Anthony Hitchens to play all three linebacker spots make Justin Durant expendable?

Nick: Without a doubt, that's what happened. Before this team realized how good Hitchens is, Durant was someone they valued to the highest degree. But considering how well Hitchens played, especially in the middle, along with Durant getting hurt and missing 10 games, there was no way the Cowboys were going to get into a bidding war over Durant, especially in the $3 million per season range. Throw in the fact that Sean Lee is expected to return this spring and the Cowboys just couldn't afford to pay that kind of money to an undersized linebacker coming off a season-ending injury who turns 30 in September.

Bryan: I was hopeful that Durant was going to be able to return to the club after what I saw in 2014 which is a complete 180 from what I thought I was going to get from him before the season. Anthony Hitchens is a fine player and will continue to develop but Durant brought the right kind of attitude to this defense. You could see through his effort on and off the field that he loved football and this team is going to miss that passion. They are also going to miss his ability to run this defense and get teammates in the right spot. It is a fact that he does struggle with his health and that was a concern especially with the money that he was being offered. It would have been nice to have him back but that's the part of the business that is difficult.

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