IRVING, Texas – Ernie Sims didn't expect to be on the streets looking for a job six years after being selected with the ninth pick of the 2006 NFL Draft.
He recorded more than 100 tackles his first three seasons in the league with Detroit, but was traded to Philadelphia after his fourth year. His tackle totals then dipped, and the Eagles let him go to Indianapolis last season, where he played in 13 games.
Sims said his past experiences in the NFL changed his life, and he's excited to start a new beginning in Dallas with a transformed body frame and a different perspective. He said he enters Dallas with something to prove.
"I've grown up as a young man," Sims said. "A lot of people when they see me, they say, 'He looks familiar, but is that the same guy?' I'm still the same guy. I just look different. I cut all my hair off. I don't carry myself like I did. I'm married now. I've got a beautiful young son now. My motives and my mindset are totally different now."
That storyline from top draft pick to NFL journeyman isn't so different from the Cowboys' first round pick in Sims' same draft class, Bobby Carpenter, who's bounced from team to team, earning an extended career in the NFL, but never finding a comfortable location for more than a few seasons.
Now Sims, with his fourth team in seven NFL seasons, believes this stop is different. The 27-year-old said his body is both healthy and more massive than in the past.
"If you look at me earlier in my career, I've been probably smaller than I am right now," Sims said. "I've actually gained about five or six pounds of lean mass. I'm stronger, faster and obviously bigger than I was my first couple of years in the NFL. I'm pretty confident in my ability."
The beefed up frame should help his cause as he prepares for a role on the inside in a 3-4 scheme for the first time in his athletic career. He said he's played for a variety of defensive coordinators before, so the altered scheme won't bother him.
Sims typically played as a weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 package, but he does have limited experience playing on the inside, having adjusted for injuries while in Detroit. He was brought in to the Cowboys to adjust for an injury as well, with star linebacker Sean Lee out for the season. Sims' role appears to be splitting duties with linebacker Dan Connor, primarily playing in subpackages in passing downs.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan made it clear Friday that Sims would be suited up and part of the Cowboys defense Sunday in his first week with the team. Ryan remembered Sims well from his earlier playing days, when he tried to get owner Al Davis to draft him out of college. He said he wanted to turn Sims into a safety out of college, and the new addition can still run better than the typical linebacker.
"I just loved the way the guy played," Ryan said. "He had a passion for the game, he knocked people out, he loved to hit and that's the type of guy that I like to be around. He loves football."
It hasn't worked out long term for Sims in his past locations, attempting to live up to the lofty expectations of a top-10 draft pick while fighting through injuries. His first noticeable trait is his height as a linebacker, standing only 6-feet tall. He's been in trouble with the league before, receiving a $50,000 fine for a hit on a defenseless receiver while in Philadelphia. He was also arrested while playing in college at Florida State. But seven years later, Sims said he's changed his mindset.
Head coach Jason Garrett said he's only heard good things about Sims as a person and as a passionate linebacker, and he's thrilled to be able to plug Sims into his defense.
"He's a guy who's not real big, but watch him play," Garrett said. "Watch him play in college. Watch him play in the NFL. He plays with a great motor, a great demeanor. He runs to the football and makes a lot of plays. So we're excited to have the opportunity to get him."
Adversity defined the former first-round pick, who is joining a team halfway through a season for the first time in his career. After sitting around waiting for a phone call and preparing his body for an opportunity, Dallas is giving him a shot. He doesn't want to let it go to waste.
"I'm just happy to be off the streets," Sims said. "I'm happy to have a job so I can support my family – my wife and my one kid. It's definitely an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Dallas Cowboys and I'm eager and excited to get to work and learn as much as I can and get ready for this upcoming game."