FRISCO, Texas -- For the fourth straight season, the Dallas Cowboys could have a defensive player miss games because of a suspension.
David Irving is appealing a four-game ban for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, according to a source, but rarely are those suspensions overturned or even thrown out altogether. Players are told -- and retold -- that they are responsible for what they put into their bodies. If they don't use an approved substance, then they run the risks of what Irving is facing.
If (or when) the suspension is upheld, Irving will join Orlando Scandrick (two games, 2014), Greg Hardy (four games, 2015), Randy Gregory (14 games, 2016 and all of 2017), DeMarcus Lawrence (four games, 2016) and Rolando McClain (suspended indefinitely, 2016) as suspended Cowboys.
Since 2014, the Cowboys have had 10 different players receive suspensions from the NFL. Some never played for the team (Shaq Evans, R.J. McDill). Others had small roles (Josh Brent, Jakar Hamilton). But Irving, Gregory, McClain, Scandrick, Lawrence and Hardy were starters or major role players when they were hit with the penalty.
That's a difficult way to build a defense.
From Irving's perspective, the timing is awful. He was the Cowboys' most productive defensive lineman at the end of last season. While he was set to become a restricted free agent after this season, the Cowboys pondered the possibility of doing a multiyear extension, similar to what they have done with Cole Beasley and Jeff Heath the last few years.
While it remains possible to work out a deal, Irving's price would be affected if the suspension holds because the next penalty is even more severe.
From the Cowboys' perspective, it should not change how they handle their defensive line group.
If the suspension holds, Irving will be able to continue to work out through the organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and preseason games. Once the team makes the final cuts for the 53-man roster, he would then be moved to the suspended list.
The Cowboys have felt comfortable with their defensive line depth. They added Stephen Paea and Damontre Moore in free agency. They drafted Taco Charlton in the first round and tackles Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell on the third day of the draft.
Irving's absence could help Moore's chances of making the roster. One of the undrafted free agents, such as Lewis Neal, could make it into the fold as well.
But the Cowboys don't need to make a 16-game decision on a player because Irving could miss four games. They didn't make significant additions when they lost Lawrence for four games. (Gregory falls into a different category because of the multiple violations that have him deep into the substance-abuse program with the possibility of not playing again.)
Losing Irving would be a tough blow to the rotation defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes to employ, but it does not take the Cowboys out of contender status. Irving had four sacks last season. He led the Cowboys in quarterback hurries with 26. He is an ascending player in many ways, but he is not a finished product to the point where the Cowboys know what to expect from him week to week.
Remember, after his dominating performance against the Green Bay Packers in the sixth game of the season -- one sack, three forced fumbles, one pass deflection, one tackle for loss that earned him defensive player of the week honors -- he went seven games without a sack.
In many ways Irving remained a projection as he entered 2017.
The Cowboys defense is better with Irving in the rotation, but his potential absence can be overcome.
They have made do without Scandrick, Lawrence, Gregory and McClain and managed to make the playoffs in 2014 and 2016.
They can make do in 2017 without Irving if required.