3 Cowboys Players In for a 2013 Decline

Monday, I posted an article on three Cowboys players I’m “buying” heading into the 2013 season. Those players -- Morris Claiborne, Tyron Smith, and Matt Johnson -- are all guys who I believe to be more valuable than the typical fan or analyst. In that way, they’re undervalued stocks whose actual worth exceeds their “market price.”

You should immediately notice a trend with those three players; they’re all young. I think that age is the most overlooked aspect in predicting future play, but one of the most important. The Cowboys seem to be valuing age more in their decision-making, as we’ve seen with the lack of veteran contracts since Jason Garrett has taken over as the head coach.

Using age as the primary basis for my evaluation, here are three Cowboys players I’m “selling” in 2013:

TE Jason Witten
I’ve often discussed why Witten’s 2012 season was highly overrated; namely, he benefited from increased usage, but not increased efficiency. Actually, Witten recorded the lowest yards per route of his career. Now at the age when most tight ends have seen a dramatic drop in production, Witten’s bulk receiving stats will suffer as he 1) sees fewer targets and 2) continues his downward trend in efficiency.

DT Jay Ratliff
Ratliff might seem like an odd player to “sell” since his stock isn’t particularly high right now, but I’m really not buying into the idea that he’s going to once again flourish in the 4-3 defense. It does fit his skill set, but Ratliff hasn’t had more than 3.5 sacks in a season since 2009. And while many defensive tackles can play at a high level in their early-30s, Ratliff is a unique player because he relies primarily on his speed, not his strength, to make plays. When we examine the aging curves for different positions, it’s the players who use their strength—which doesn’t deteriorate at nearly the same rate as speed—who can last in the NFL. That’s why we see some pass-rushers play well into their 30s, but we rarely ever see a great running back past age 28.

DE DeMarcus Ware
Let me be clear that I’m not arguing that Ware is an ineffective player or that I’d trade him for a mid-round pick or anything like that. He’s awesome. But I don’t think he’s quite as awesome as most. It seems like everyone is expecting Ware to return to his 20-plus sack form, but I think we’ll see a lot of disappointment if that’s the case. His efficiency has declined for a few years in a row, and at age 31, he’ll be playing at an age that has historically been the start of a precipitous drop in production for pass-rushers. So I’m not selling Ware as a meaningful contributor to the defense (and really still one of the better defensive players in the NFL), but rather as the dominant 20-sack player we saw a few seasons ago.

Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.

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