Heading into the 2017-18 offseason, the Cowboys faced several large predicaments. They needed to sign DeMarcus Lawrence. They needed, and still need, to do something about Dez Bryant's contract. They needed to do something to shore up the team's linebacking corps and offensive lines after a series of disastrous games when Sean Lee and Tyron Smith were injured in 2017. One thing the team didn't need to worry about, seemingly, was making sure David Irving, the Cowboys' raw, freakishly athletic defensive tackle, returned to Arlington in 2018.
After Wednesday's decision by the team's front office, it might be time to worry.
Irving entered the offseason as a restricted free agent. In the NFL, that means a couple of things. First, the Cowboys have the right to match any contract offered to Irving by another team, as long as they tender him a contract. The value of that tendered contract is tied to the amount of compensation the Cowboys would receive from the team that signs Irving should the Cowboys refuse to match the offer.
The Cowboys were expected to hand Irving a first-round tender worth about $4.5 million. Had they done so, any team that hoped to take Irving, who had seven sacks and six passes defended in just seven 2017 games, would've had to give the Cowboys a first-round draft pick. Given how stingy teams are with their top selections, Irving effectively would've been handcuffed to the Cowboys.
As is their custom, however, the Cowboys decided not to do things the easy way. Instead of offering Irving the $4.5 million deal that would've kept him here for sure, the Cowboys gave him a slightly less valuable second-round tender worth a little under $3 million.
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The cash difference in salary is almost meaningless against a $177.2 million salary cap, so basically, the Cowboys are daring another team to offer Irving a multiyear deal because they'd rather have a second-round draft pick.
Risking losing a talent as big as Irving's for a nonpremium draft pick is crazy, but the Cowboys clearly have decided that the defensive lineman's personality isn't worth putting up with for anything more than the bare minimum expense. Irving is harmless, even charming, off the field, but he definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. Last year, he put his fist in the air several times after the national anthem. He also missed four games after being suspended for taking a tainted supplement and posted a nude picture of himself on Twitter — which he blamed on being an actor and model.
On the field, however, he's faster and has more stamina and a bigger wingspan than any other defensive tackle in the league. Given the chance to develop his technique and pass rush moves — he's only received regular playing time since 2016 — Irving could develop into an All-Pro type player, better than anyone likely to be available in the second round of the draft.
If he signs for another team, the Cowboys will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Again.