David Irving's loss shouldn't sting as bad as it does for the Cowboys. He played in just two games in 2018, registering a single sack and a paltry four tackles. Even before the NFL handed him an indefinite suspension Friday afternoon for violating the league's substance-abuse policy — one of two given to Cowboys defensive linemen last week, along with outside rusher Randy Gregory — the franchise appeared ready to let the former Iowa State Cyclone move on in free agency. The team's pass rush was plenty good last year when Irving wasn't on the field, too.
Irving missed the last two months of 2018 with a high ankle sprain. Before that, he missed the first four games of the 2017 season after being suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs and the last four games of the same year suffering from the aftermath of a concussion. Everything about him screams expendable, especially considering his disciplinary issues.
Irving's actual production is only half the story, however. Despite all the time away in 2017, Irving still managed seven sacks, second on the team to DeMarcus Lawrence. Whenever he got on the field, he showed why it was so hard for the Cowboys to quit him.
What's really going to hurt for Cowboys management and the team's fans is the loss of what Irving might have been. At his best, Irving was one of the most talented interior linemen in Cowboys history. With his size, speed and unstoppable motor, he could've been a perennial Pro Bowler for the team. Instead, thanks to twin inabilities to avoid NFL drug cops and keep himself healthy when he wasn't suspended, Irving is going to be another in a long line of preternaturally talented Dallas athletes to see his career blow up before it ever really got started.
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Irving is like center Roy Tarpley, the 1986 Mavericks first-round pick who never kicked his drug habit, and pitcher David Clyde, the Rangers' first overall pick in the 1973 draft, thrown to the major league wolves when he was just out of high school, gone before he ever really had a chance.
Irving was able to completely take over games despite a lack of polish. He never developed elite pass rushing moves. Instead, he created havoc by physically beating less skilled interior offensive linemen or chasing the play after it broke down. His unique presence inside made things easier for outside rushers like Lawrence, as well.
David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence on Cowboys’ first defensive snap yesterday pic.twitter.com/6gPgOwwd1L— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 31, 2017
Without Irving, or at least the specter of a returning Irving, the Cowboys need to pick an interior lineman capable of rushing the passer during the offseason. If the Cowboys look to improve the position in April's draft, Alabama's Isaiah Buggs is a name that's popping up in the second round — remember the Cowboys dealt their first-round pick for Amari Cooper in October — of mock drafts. Outside of the draft, Buccaneers star Gerald McCoy looks like he could get cut by Tampa Bay because of the nearly $40 million remaining on his contract, so he could be an option.