FRISCO, Texas – In recent years the Cowboys have shown a preference for prioritizing their own free agents first because they fully understand the value of players who have already contributed to their roster.
Stephen Paea isn't a typical free-agent signing from outside the organization, though.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was first Paea's first NFL coordinator back in 2011 when the Chicago Bears drafted the 300-pound defensive tackle in the second round out of Oregon State.
Needless to say, the six-year veteran won't take long to adjust to the Cowboys' defense.
"The system is perfect for me," Paea said.
He and the Cowboys agreed to a one-year contract last Friday, the same day Terrell McClain, a 15-game starter at defensive tackle for Dallas last season, signed with division rival Washington. Jack Crawford, who split time between tackle and defensive end, also left the Cowboys last week for a free-agent deal with Atlanta.
Paea, 28, will help replace McClain and Crawford as part of a defensive line rotation that still includes 2016 third-round pick Maliek Collins and Cedric Thornton, last year's biggest free-agent signing.
Paea spent his first four NFL seasons in Chicago, tallying 32 tackles and six sacks in 39 games (24 starts). He posted a career-high six sacks in 2014, his final season with the Bears, and spent the last two years in 3-4 schemes with the Redskins and Browns.
Back in Marinelli's 4-3 defense, he's looking forward to resuming the role he believes fits him best: more of penetrating tackle than occupying blockers for the outside linebackers rushing.
"I'm more like an aggressive, get-off-the-line-and-dictate (tackle) – don't let the O-Line dictate what you do," he said. "You just go you play fast, and that's what Rod is a lot about. That's not what I have done in the last two years or the last four years since I've been with Rod. But I'm excited to get back to it and see how it goes.
"It's been a rollercoaster ride for me in my career, and obviously going back to where I started from with Rod Marinelli, there's nothing better than that."
Marinelli is entering his fifth season coaching the defensive line and his fourth season directing the entire defense. That type of staff continuity helps the organization identify players who might fit their scheme via free agency or the draft.[embeddedad0]
"You're not changing philosophies, you're not having to start over again with the infrastructure of your football team, because they have the same basic beliefs in what a football player should look like to be successful in their particular schemes," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "We're just big believers that the continuity part is a huge part of being successful over a period of time."
Paea's a good example of a free-agent acquisition that makes sense given his history with Marinelli.
"He knew what I have. I have passion for the game," he said. "I love the game and I just want to help out the team. And obviously playing with Rod again is a blessing."