ARLINGTON, Texas -- If his performance against the Broncos was the beginning of a trend, Jason Hatcher will be a heck of a bargain for the Cowboys.
“He was a one-man wrecking crew,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.
Hatcher hasn’t made the impact the Cowboys hoped he would when they selected him in the third round of the 2006 draft. That’s why he was the third priority out of their three unrestricted free agent defensive ends once the lockout was lifted.
Stephen Bowen was the top priority, but the Cowboys weren’t willing to come close to matching the five-year, $27.5 million contract the Redskins gave him. Longtime starter Marcus Spears was next in line, getting a five-year, $19.2 million deal to return to Dallas. Hatcher settled for $6 million over three seasons.
Hatcher, however, isn’t sweating his salary. He’s happy to be back and eager for what he feels like is his first legitimate chance to compete for a starting job.
“I started off slow, didn’t get the shot that I wanted early in my career,” Hatcher said. “Now I’ve got my shot. It’s a waiting game sometimes in this league. You’ve just got to be ready when the time comes. I feel like my time is here.”
The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Hatcher has only 7.5 sacks in five seasons, but he’s the most dangerous pass rusher among the Cowboys’ current crop of defensive ends. He impressed Ryan by consistently getting pressure as part of a three-man pass rush in the red zone. Hatcher was also disruptive in the running game, even against double teams.
Of course, that was only the preseason opener. Hatcher showed flashes in his first five seasons, but he never earned an increased role. That could change this season, especially if Igor Olshansky doesn’t play better than he did against the Broncos and Hatcher continues playing well.
“I’ve just got to keep being consistent and keep grinding,” Hatcher said.