After exceeding expectations in 2013, Jason Hatcher was worthy of making the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. It is interesting to note that Hatcher was mainly a 3-4 player, until his breakout year in 2013 when he moved to a 4-3. Hatcher’s production could have been because it was a contract year. Also, he may have played extremely well because of his role in the 4-3 defense. In fact, Hatcher was not even supposed to be the 3-technique starter in the 4-3. It was Ben Bass, who was manning the starting role. But after Bass went down with a season-ending injury, Hatcher was able to take advantage of the situation.
This defensive line was very inconsistent. When players like George Selvie are giving more production that DeMarcus Ware, there is definitely a cause for concern. Hatcher was easily the most consistent player out of the bunch. The eight-year veteran had 41 total tackles and 11 sacks for this defense. While Hatcher missed out on his first Pro Bowl appearance, he certainly played like a Pro Bowler. If Hatch hits the open market expect multiple teams to come calling.
With the lack of depth at the defensive tackle position in the NFL draft, the Cowboys’ best option may be to franchise Hatcher. There are several defensive tackles that may be worth the pick in the first round. Players like Ra’Shede Hageman, Will Sutton, and Louis Nix III are all guys on Dallas’ radar. But, all three of them have their own problems. In Hageman’s case, he may be a boom-or-bust type of player. In Sutton’s case, he may be a bit too small to play the 3-technique position for the Cowboys. In Nix III’s case, he is coming off a major knee surgery that may affect his impact in 2014.
Is There Help in Free Agency?
If Dallas elects to sign a defensive tackle by free agency, it will cost them. One guy on their radar could be Henry Melton. Melton is ultra-productive, but he also was not able to complete the 2013 season because of a knee injury. Besides Melton, there are not many options for this Cowboys team.
With the lack of depth at the defensive tackle position in the NFL draft or in free agency, it may be best to use the franchise tag on Jason Hatcher. Here are three reasons why:
1. To have a developed player, instead of a new face
In the NFL, continuity is key for any franchise. With Rod Marinelli coming back, Jason Hatcher could even improve from his play in 2013. Rather than developing a rookie, Hatcher could come back and make an immediate impact. Melton is also a great player, but Hatcher is just as good and he already has roots in Dallas.
2. By tagging Hatcher, Cowboys fill an immediate need
With Brandon Bass on pace to come back, Jason Hatcher will have a competent running-mate with him. Bass is a young player in this league and his future in Dallas has yet to be determined. Putting Hatcher next to a young player could help that player tremendously down the road for the Cowboys. By bringing back Hatcher, the Cowboys may not have to draft a defensive tackle in the first round. Instead they could go after other needs, like the safety and defensive end position.
3. To see if 2013 was not a one-year wonder
Hatcher had an excellent year in 2013, but it could have been a one-year wonder. I said the Cowboys should do this last year with Anthony Spencer. Obviously, tagging Spencer was a complete waste of cap space. But, Hatcher has more value to the Cowboys than Spencer had to them at the end of the 2012 season. If Hatcher can produce for consecutive years, he will most likely be back with the Cowboys in 2015.