Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Offseason Digest - Paul Dawson, Hall of Fame, Claiborne

If you want to start a fight, talk about the pro football hall of fame.  This is a great interest of mine (not fighting, but the hall of fame) and I love talking about it every year at this time. I certainly regret not writing more about it before the induction announcements were made, but surely you are quite aware of the new class that was announced on Saturday from Phoenix.
Obviously, it is locally a huge story to get Charles Haley into the Hall - a huge pillar of the Cowboys defense from 1992-1996 - and Dallas' own Tim Brown who never played here beyond high school, but absolutely put up a career of numbers that required a spot in football's hall.
The reason fights always break out when discussing the Hall of Fame is not because those inducted are not worthy.  But rather, because those who are not inducted, those who are forced to wait when others go right in, and what role being part of a special team or being on television have to do with expediting one's process over someone who just merely played football on an excellent individual basis and then retired to anonymity.
These issues all lead to frustration and it is interesting to see how the arguments are never consistent from person to person.  In fact, they often go off the rails because you apply one argument for one of your sacred sons, but then ignore the same logic when it works against another local guy.  Basically, everyone wants their guys rightfully honored, and nobody wants to wait.  Thus, the arguments.
Charles Haley is a very interesting case.  I should disclose that I have gotten to know him over the years and find him a fascinating human being and thus, the personal connection makes me want to rubber-stamp his place in Canton.  Yet, that whole "brother-in-law" idea is the very essence of what is wrong with the process and has been working against Haley - a guy who certainly did not endear himself to the media - for his whole career.
He was not on the 1980s or 1990s All-Decade teams.  Perhaps because his prime was half in the 1980s and half in the 1990s, or perhaps because those who covered the NFL felt he was a slight rung down from Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Chris Doleman, Howie Long, and even Neil Smith.
2 years ago, when the Haley discussion was really heating up, I wrote about his Hall of Fame case in the following manner:
His notable talking point is that he has 5 Super Bowl victories: 23, 24, 27, 28, and 30.  That is fantastic, and he was in on at least one sack in 4 of those Super Bowls.  He also has 100.5 sacks and although 100 seems like a magic number for Hall of Fame consideration, don't be so sure.
Leslie O'Neal has 132, Simeon Rice has 122, Sean Jones 113, Greg Townsend 109, Trace Armstrong 106, and yes, even Jim Jeffcoat has 102.5.  And if you knew that Jeffcoat had more career sacks than Charles Haley, then I congratulate you.  Because that surprised me.

Now, guys like Howie Long (84) have fewer sacks than Haley and are in the Hall of Fame, but Greg Ellis also has 84, so we must assume that sack totals do not tell all.  Which likely lead us back to 7 championship games and 5 Super Bowl rings.

The other oddity of Haley's career was that on those 1992 and 1993 Cowboys teams that are considered amongst the greatest single-season teams of this lifetime, he only finished 3rd and 4th in sacks.  In 1992, Jeffcoat had 10.5, Tony Tolbert 8.5, and Haley had 6.  In 1993, Tolbert had 7.5, Jeffcoat 6, Jimmie Jones 5.5, and Haley just 4.  Those numbers are hard to process. (Yes, he was double-teamed constantly making opportunities for others, but we can rest easy knowing White, Smith, and Doleman were constantly schemed against as well).

Now, having just viewed Super Bowl 27, I will attest to the fact that Haley was a monster that day and All-Pro tackle Will Wolford was beaten badly.  So, when the chips were down, he performed, but there are some production numbers that are problematic.

Meanwhile, for all of Howie Long's points earned as a personality who endeared himself to the public with smiles and television time, Haley will have a hill to overcome in that department as well.  As we know, the media votes, so if you spent most of your career trying to scare the media or at least be difficult, then hopefully the media is not vindictive (lol).
I want to be clear:  Haley is a hall of famer, no doubt.  But to those who still are not, Harvey Martin, Drew Pearson, Cliff Harris all come quickly to mind in Dallas alone, the criteria of what gets somebody in is very unclear.
Take the great pass rusher Kevin Greene.  With 160 sacks on some very good teams, Greene is the 3rd best pass rusher since the sack total has been tabulated starting in 1982.  Only Bruce Smith and Reggie White have more in the modern history of the sport.  And yet, I assume because he doesn't have Super Bowl titles, he is not in with nearly 60 more sacks than Haley.  But, 5 fewer rings.
So, where is the line?  Is it personal accomplishments?  Yes, sort of.  Or is it team accomplishments?  It sure seems that if you were part of a dynasty - or in Haley's case, 2 dynasties - that we put you in quicker and with less hesitation.  Look at all of the 1960s Packers and 1970s Steelers who are in.  It seems the same great fortune that allowed these guys to play with other special players and therefore win titles during their career continues to give them a huge advantage after their careers, as well.
You can't tell me Drew Pearson doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, especially when Lynn Swann is already there.  But, Swann had a real difficult time getting in and you might be shocked to know that Dez Bryant is basically 1 catch from passing Swann's career yardage totals.  But, he won those Super Bowls against Pearson's team and maybe that is why he is in Canton and we wonder if Drew ever will be.
The bottom line is that in football, we just have a hard time identifying how to quantify a player's contribution that led to the wins his team enjoyed.  Quarterbacks are the easiest, but how do we know a guard or a defensive tackle's net contribution to his team's wins?  And should a team's wins be a major requirement for a Hall that tries to recognize individual excellence?
If only players who have sturdy post-season accomplishments have a spot in Canton, I wonder how we will argue differently when it is time to honor Jason Witten or DeMarcus Ware around here.  Both were amongst the best in their era.  But, both, to this point, are much more Kevin Greene than Charles Haley.
Greene is currently wondering if he will ever get in.
I love this topic, but at the end of the proverbial day, everybody wants "their guys" in and don't care who gets left behind from some other franchise.  It is simply the nature of the Hall of Fame and the starter of many a fight.
(Each issue of S.O.D., we shall tackle another draft prospect.  No, I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football.  By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better.  It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.)
Find all the profiles here.
Paul Dawson, LB, TCU - 6'2, 230 - Senior
Linebacker Paul Dawson #47 of the TCU Horned Frogs warms up before the Big 12 college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Amon G. Carter Stadium on December 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Some positions are premium in the draft, but that means others contain very good players that simply are not valued at the same level of currency in the modern NFL.  Non-pass rushing linebackers are certainly in the latter category (but, then again so are guards and centers and the Cowboys have selected one of each in the last 2 1st rounds and they seem quite pleased with the results).  Dawson is another from the defensive football factory in Fort Worth where Gary Patterson employs a 4-2-5 defense and has his 2 linebackers running around destroying everything and being prepared for the NFL in the process.  Dawson was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and grew into a spot where he became the talk of the draft as the Bowl season developed.  For his profile, I looked at Oklahoma State, Texas, and Ole Miss to see what he was all about.
What I liked:  Pop on one of his games and it becomes clear very quickly that he runs very well and has no problem in space against running backs in routes.  To play the position he was asked to play, he has to pick through traffic and seek and destroy guys in the open field, and he does it with great explosiveness.  Maybe his best attribute is how he can take on blockers and still make the stop.  Pulling guards or lead full backs have a heck of a time keeping their ball carrier clean with Dawson flying around them with his athleticism and still racking up another tackle for loss.  His closing speed is amazing and panic inducing to a QB who is trying to find a solution to this on the fly.  He shoots gaps so well and has a real knack for blitzing off the edge when it is called for.  He really plays linebacker like a safety with his fluid ability and his heat-seeking missile style.
What I did not like:  Sometimes, he gets going a bit too fast and will over-run plays and miss an opportunity.  I am sure he is taught to err on the side of going too fast, but you don't want to leave plays unmade out there.  He also has pretty much just 2014 of production as he was a JUCO transfer and a wide receiver out of high school.  What you have to ask yourself is how much do you invest in a player like this who appears to be a perfect "Will" Linebacker candidate in Rod Marinelli's 4-3.
Summary:  This is absolutely the type of player that would fit wonderfully into the Cowboys' plans, but there are many mitigating circumstances to consider.  The biggest is that they really only have Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens under contract in 2015, while Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, and Rolando McClain are all free.  Surely, those decisions are tied together.  But, also, Dawson was the type of kid that just 60 days ago seemed like a reasonable 2nd or 3rd round idea, and now he may, with a great spring, be the type of guy to work his way into the 1st round if a team wants this type of talent.  He is very good, the question is whether a team like the Cowboys should allocate resources here when they really want to address the sack issue and the potential replacement for DeMarco Murray.  Complicated, but Dawson is exceptional at what he does, which is to cause major chaos on a regular basis.
Today's Email/Tweet Of The Day:
Rich-  First and foremost, I really appreciate your email.  This is the type of conversation I love because there are many examples of corners converting to safety (especially free safety) that turn out very well.  The question is should the Cowboys undertake that experiment with a guy who was compared to Deion Sanders just 32 months ago by the franchise and is still a very young and talented player.
My personal feelings are that they should try to continue down the corner road for the current time being.  He is just too much of an investment to walk away from and they have a defensive coach in Rod Marinelli that has shown again and again that he can handle reclamation projects.  I don't know if Claiborne has ever seen himself as that type of guy in his whole career, but we are now at a pivotal spot for the kid.  If the Cowboys decide to pick up his 2016 option or not (and I think that is nearly impossible - despite what Jerry has said), he is now at a spot where his career can go in 2 directions.  1) he can step up and show why he was a top 10 pick quickly or 2) he will be just another guy taking what is available to prove himself as he enters his career.  The difference in those 2 paths is often the difference between $10m a year and $1m for a 1-year deal.
So, there is a huge financial component to all of this and time is running very short for a guy trying to rally from an ACL, too.  The player is stuck between wanting to get that next deal and doing whatever the team wants.  The only proper way to convert a guy is when he believes it is the best chance for him to stay in the league and I am going to guess Claiborne still isn't feeling desperate yet.  He likely still believes that he can turn this around at corner.
But, if your larger point is that the Cowboys don't have a very good free safety right now, I will agree.  I think with JJ Wilcox and Barry Church, the Cowboys are getting by with two natural box safeties.  I think Wilcox is fine and developing, but we see that at times his angles and instincts lead you to believe that they could upgrade there.  I have been hoping for a Calvin Pryor-type to fix this in previous years, but it certainly has never appeared the Cowboys consider safety a position worth major investment.
Could they fix 2 issues with one move?  Claiborne to safety?  It would be a fun experiment, but it would have high stakes and would require his complete buy-in.  Which, I don't know is to be expected at this juncture in what will certainly be a contract year.
Next Draft Profile:  Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

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