Cowboys free-agent watch: Nick Hayden a steady hand up front

The Dallas Cowboys have 16 players set to become unrestricted free agents in March. In this series, we determine why a player should or should not return in 2016 and beyond.

Nick Hayden

Position: Defensive lineman

Age: 30

NFL experience: Six years

2015 salary: $745,000

2015 statistics: Hayden started 15 of 16 games and was credited by the coaches with 54 tackles, which was second among the Cowboys’ defensive linemen. He also had four tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, two pass deflections and one fumble recovery.

Why he will be back: Two words: Rod Marinelli. Hayden is a favorite of Rod Marinelli’s because he works hard, keeps his mouth shut and is always ready come Sunday. He has not missed a game in three seasons with the Cowboys. The Cowboys would like to keep his snap count down, but he is durable when others break down. He will not bring much pass rush, with just two half-sacks in his career, but that is not his game. Contractually speaking, he will not break the bank either.

Why he will not be back: He turned 30 in February and the draft is particularly loaded with one-technique defensive tackles who offer more as pass-rushers. While he is a favorite of the coaching staff, that can also be seen as a crutch when others in an organization want to see a younger guy play. The Cowboys' run defense is hardly dominant, and finding a bigger, more athletic body to play the amount of snaps Hayden has played could help the defense.

Chance to return: Moderate. The Cowboys will like Hayden more than other teams and the cost will not be expensive. He signed a veteran minimum salary benefit contract in 2015 and is likely looking at the same in 2016.

The series: