Cowboys sign LB Justin Durant, appear to be valuing speed over size in new defense under Monte Kiffin

The Cowboys have agreed in principal to a deal with former Lions LB Justin Durant, per Adam Schefter. It is expected that Durant will play the SAM position. I confirmed on tape that he mostly played SAM with the Lions, although I’m otherwise unfamiliar with his game. I’ll have more on him later after I’ve had a chance to take a closer look.

What I can say, however, is that Durant appears to be a very athletic player. At the 2007 Combine, he finished at least in the Top 6 among all LBs in all the speed/agility drills:

Durant combine

Durant has a similar body type to the other projected Cowboys starting LBs:

SAM: Justin Durant, 6’1, 240

MIKE: Sean Lee, 6’2, 245

WILL: Bruce Carter, 6’2, 240

All three players are very athletic, although none of them are particularly big. As noted earlier this week, the Cowboys have the smallest set of 4-3 DEs in the league. It appears that the new defense under Monte Kiffin will heavily favor speed over size.

Durant played 875 of a possible 1070 snaps (81.8%) last season, per PFF.

34 Comments

  1. Mflick says:

    When you have coordinators that peaked 10 years ago, you have a defensive philosophy that peaked 10 years ago.

    1. Jack Ass! says:

      Brilliant analysis pole-smoker!!

  2. Cowboy Luv says:

    And They said the Boys where Cap Strapped couldnt get nobody then BOOM Jerry does it again,No one Jerry wants, leaves the ranch .Money now or money later!(Americas team w/a American dream)

  3. David_Does_Dallas says:

    You gonna change our free agency grade now? Or is late work not accepted.

    1. Recalculating…

      (Computer noises)

      Still F.

      1. DerfDiggy says:

        It’s ok David…Jimmy’s proven time and time again he’s not very good at predicting the season based off of Free Agency. See Here:

        http://bloggingthebeast.com/2011/08/01/recap-of-the-nfc-east-fa-period-roster-moves-2/

        “Through almost a week of free agency, it’s pretty easy to summarize the NFC East by saying the Eagles and Redskins have improved their teams. The Cowboys and Giants, not so much.”

        Word?

        *snicker snicker…tee hee…tee hee…Dream Team comment *

        1. Tim says:

          The repeated criticism of the Spencer tagging last offseason is another example.

          I agree that, if you’re looking at the long term future for the Cowboys, they’ve created cap problems for themselves this offseason. But for this upcoming season, I do not agree that Eagles have improved more via their massive turnover and addition of role players than the Cowboys have by keeping a solid core together for an additional year and letting a below-average but newly-put-together OL get healthier and get another year of continuity and full offseason work in. For all the talk of aging on this team, the Cowboys have young and improving players at many key positions– it is very reasonable to expect the OL, the LB corps, the CBs, and Dez Bryant to be improved in 2013 versus 2012.

          Additionally, the Cowboys lost the most games to injury of any defense in the NFL last year:
          http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2013/2012-adjusted-games-lost
          Getting the defense healthy is a significant offseason accomplishment and potential source of improvement for 2013.

          1. Jeff says:

            I agree that they should have better injury luck next year, but I wonder how much their defensive AGL will improve. Lee is injured frequently. Players over 30 – like Ratliff, Ware, and Hatcher – are more prone to injuries. Even before their injuries got out of control they had an average defense by DVOA. I don’t have the pass/run splits, but I imagine the pass defense wasn’t that good (it wasn’t by NY/A).

            I didn’t like tagging Spencer last year, and I like it less this year. Since you read Football Outsiders, did you catch the blurb via ESPN In$ider on his likely regression? 2012 is probably an anomaly. But Dallas is a franchise that shows remarkable loyalty (fear?) in holding on to players…

          2. Hang on here a second on Spencer. It was less a criticism of Spencer, and more a criticism of the Cowboys’ decision to tag him.

            The decision to franchise Spencer last season isn’t some kind of slam dunk great decision, by the way. In fact, in analyzing that situation in its entirety, I noted that even if Spencer had a breakout season it would only put the Cowboys in another difficult spot this year:

            http://bloggingthebeast.com/2012/03/04/cowboys-upcoming-decision-to-franchise-anthony-spencer-shows-a-lack-of-creativity-in-player-personnel/

            5) What if you franchise tag Anthony Spencer and he finally produces for a full season in 2012?

            Great! That’s the best case scenario. Finally, “Almost Anthony” will have shed the “almost” from his alliterative nickname. But here’s the rub… He’ll be a free agent again in 2013. Wanna tag him again? You can, but it’ll cost you 120% of his salary from the previous season, or $10,560,000. Now you’re opening up a whole new can of worms. Do you pay a guy $10.56 million (or perhaps even a long term mega-deal) to a player with one good full season? I guess it would depend on how good he actually was, but once again it would likely be another really tough decision.

            And here we are. The Cowboys had to restructure how many contracts to fit Spencer’s tag number under the cap?

            As I said in the Cowboys FA recap post:

            Spencer’s cap number will be $10,627,200 in 2013, or 8.64% of their cap. Spencer had a breakout season of sorts in 2012, although a lot of people thought he had a breakout “2nd half of the season” in 2009, before a couple of lackluster seasons in 2010 and 2011. Add in a positional switch that will make Spencer significantly undersized, and you begin to wonder if he can maintain his level of play from 2012.

            Let’s say for the sake of argument that Spencer thrives in the 4-3, here’s the rub… He’ll be a free agent again in 2014. Wanna tag him for a third time? You can, but it’ll cost you the QB tag rate, which in 2013 was just shy of $15 million. That’s not happening. So the Cowboys will want to get a long term deal done with Spencer, presumably.

            If I’m Anthony Spencer, I’m looking at the deal Paul Kruger got from Cleveland, which was for 5 years, $40.5 million, and $20 guaranteed. Anything short of that, and I’d just be inclined to take my $10.6 guaranteed this year and test the market in 2014.

            Is Anthony Spencer worth 8.64% of the cap? Emphatically, no. Is he worth the 5 year, $40.5 deal Kruger received from the Browns? Emphatically, no. (Kruger isn’t either, for the record). I can understand wanting to keep Spencer aboard, but when your books are as disastrous as the Cowboys’, this is one of those difficult decisions the Cowboys probably should have exercised.

            So it’s not really as simple as saying “Spencer was the bombz last yearz, Jimmy! You suuuuuuck!” I stand behind that Spencer piece from a year ago 100%.

            1. Skulman7 says:

              Boom Roasted

            2. David_Does_Dallas says:

              Just because you covered all your bases in the likely event that you would be wrong does not change the fact that you were innacurate in your evaluation of Spencer and the value he brings to Dallas.

              1. That wasn’t “covering bases.” It was looking ahead at all the scenarios. I noted that even if he had a good season, it would only continue to be a problem. And it is. It was a perfectly valid point then, and what I said then is exactly what is happening.

                By all means, bring up the Spencer stuff all day every day if you’d like. I’m proud of that article.

              2. Deer Antler Spray says:

                way to miss the point bro.

                Jimmy was only talking about the decision to tag Spencer which has no upsides, but plenty of downside.

            3. Tim says:

              Understood that tagging Spencer last year did not help the Cowboys beyond the 2012 season. And that they were faced with a difficult offseason choice on him this year. It was a one-year solution, as the franchise tag is by definition.

              However, it allowed them to get excellent production for a very fair price last season at that position, at a position where they had no viable backup and weren’t able to sign a player to longer-term deal.

              Your #1 contention last year, leading off that post, was that Spencer was a below-average starting OLB. In 2012, he was one of the top 3 in the league at that position. I don’t think we need to parse that post line by line, it was a valuable breakdown at the time, but it clearly took a view of Spencer’s potential production that was not proven correct during the season.

              Anyway, the Spencer thing is a minor note. My point was that I don’t agree the Eagles’ massive turnover has automatically been a better offseason and improved their team more than the Cowboys’ moves, FOR THIS UPCOMING SEASON. The Cowboys’ OL, CBs, and LBs should be improved next year, with young players progressing and with a regression to the mean on health (I am making the assumption that Lee and Carter’s injuries are flukish and not recurring, since they are not soft tissue problems but bone breaks, dislocations, etc.).

              So if we’re giving out offseason evaluations, the way I’d grade the Cowboys’ short-term and long-term prospects is very different.

              1. Your #1 contention last year, leading off that post, was that Spencer was a below-average starting OLB. In 2012, he was one of the top 3 in the league at that position. I don’t think we need to parse that post line by line, it was a valuable breakdown at the time, but it clearly took a view of Spencer’s potential production that was not proven correct during the season.

                See, that’s where predictive future success and what the player had done up to that point in his career get confused. I was opining on the latter. There’s no “SEEEEEEE?!?!? You were wrong!” in that post.

              2. Also, there’s reason to believe they’ll get worse, with some players either continuing their decline (Rat, Witten, etc), or beginning to enter it (Ware? Romo?). TBD.

                Also, what’s not to like about what the Eagles were able to do? They brought in 10 players at low risk dollar figures, many of whom have a lot of upside.

              3. Tim says:

                I guess it’s more a matter of where the two teams are in the respective lifecycles of the current rosters than a “better or worse” offseason. The Cowboys extended the core of a playoff-contending team for another year, hoping that injury luck and improvement from younger guys. There is also a potential benefit from a year of continuity on an OL that saw massive churn and limited offseason practice time last year. I would guess that Dallas will be significantly better than the Eagles in 2013, although the NFL is of course tremendously unpredictable.

                The Eagles brought in a bunch of lower cost depth guys and a few new starters who, from their history, are average players. Appropriate for a team in a rebuilding stage. But it’s easier to overhaul your roster and have an impressive offseason when you’re coming off a 4 win season.

                I understand this is a low probability outcome, but if the Cowboys got to the Super Bowl this year, I imagine Jerry would accept his long term cap problems as a consequence. And I think it’s more likely that that happens for the Cowboys than the Eagles.

            4. Pathetic says:

              Of course Jimmy is proud of his post, and thinks his point is–lmfao–”valid.” He’s like the kid who is proud of pooping his pants.

  4. Real Talk says:

    Chasing around Vick & Griffin u need speed!

    1. Deer Antler Spray says:

      This should work out splendidly stopping Washington’s rushing attack.

  5. Jeff says:

    According to my sources, after Romo’s extension is finalized the Cowboys will approach Durant about restructuring his contract.

    Best of luck in Dallas, Justin, and stay away from Chick-Fil-A. It’s gross, man.

    1. Aaaaand, that just got Tweeted.

      1. Jeff says:

        Hopefully as a joke! I’m just another anonymous fan with no sources – not even anonymous ones.

  6. NYG_Slater says:

    Big people beat up little people.

  7. Undersized but fast? Sounds like what the eagles have been doing. Unless Monte Kiffin turns into JJ, I’m not sure this is the best idea, and it seems to be opposite of the general trend in the NFL.

    1. Imp says:

      “Unless Monte Kiffin turns into JJ…” Um, Kiffin, Jim Johnson, and Dick LeBeau were the three best defensive coordinators in the NFL (in any given order) for a long time?

  8. brisulph says:

    Given the speed offenses that appear to be in the NFC East (and the Giants plodders), that might be the strategy of going with speed over size.

    1. Invictus XI says:

      Good luck going up against Alfred Morris then….dude was dragging 275 lbs Justin Tuck around everywhere….

      1. Tim says:

        I know he had a nice year, but I don’t think defenses are planning their offseason personnnel moves around Alfred Morris. The NFL is an increasingly spread-oriented, passing-heavy league. Faster defensive players (look at the Seahawks’ back 7) are certainly on-trend.

        And dragging Justin Tuck around is not as notable an accomplishment as it would have been in 2008.

        1. Wert says:

          Actually, the Seahawks are bigger and more physical. None of them are ‘fast’ barring Earl Thomas

          1. Tim says:

            Fair on the CBs. I was thinking of Bobby Wagner, MLB, who was one of the fastest LBs in his class and ran a 4.42 forty.

            Point remains that speed is increasingly important in a passing-oriented league.

            1. Deer Antler Spray says:

              Au contraire, size is more important in a passing league. There are bigger TEs, so you need bigger LBs to cover them. There are bigger receivers so you need bigger CBs to cover them. OL are bigger, so you need bigger DEs and DTs to get through their blocks.

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