Cowboys Hidden Gems: Nick Hayden

As a whole the Cowboys' 2013 season was a disappointment, but they did manage to have some hidden gems. In this series, NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer looks at under-the-radar success stories.

IRVING, Texas -- There was little notice when defensive tackle Nick Hayden signed with the Dallas Cowboys on Feb. 11, 2013.

He did not play in 2012 after he was waived/injured by the Cincinnati Bengals. He did not even have a workout with another team during the season.

Hayden ended the 2013 season with the most tackles by a Cowboys defensive lineman with 51. He had more tackles than Jason Hatcher, who missed one game with a neck injury. He had more than DeMarcus Ware, who missed three games with a quadriceps strain.

He did not have a sack, but he came off the field in passing situations. He finished with two tackles for loss, 16 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and his only fumble recovery resulted in a touchdown in the 27-23 win against the Minnesota Vikings.

An afterthought in May, Hayden quickly showed the Cowboys he could be reliable. With injuries hitting the defensive line, Hayden kept performing. He was not always perfect or pretty, but he started 16 games.

With a base salary of $630,000 he was a bargain.

Ultimately, he played too many snaps. Only Brandon Carr (1,116), Orlando Scandrick (1,088), Barry Church (1,015) and Bruce Carter (874) played more than Hayden's 821 snaps. With fewer snaps in 2014, Hayden figures to be more productive as he wore down by playing more than he ever had in his career.

Before 2013, he never played a full season, never started more than 10 games in a season and never had more than 31 tackles.

He will make $730,000 in 2014, which is another bargain.

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