In The Matter Of DeMarcus Ware v. Elvis Dumervil

If you take a look at the sack list this morning, you’ll be quite happy with who is up at the top. Unless Michael Bennett has a monster game tonight, DeMarcus Ware will likely hold the sack title for a full week.  It’s evident that the Broncos and their fans are quite happy to have him in Denver right now.

But there has been a line of thought that suggests that, instead of sinking $10 million per year on a 32-34 year old Ware, the Broncos would have been better off if their misadventures between Elvis Dumervil and a fax machine never happened, as they could have had a pass rusher that was two years younger for somewhere around half the APY.

This morning, a recent quick take by Pro Football Focus contained an excellent point that compelled me to take a further look at this comparison.

[Terrell] Suggs going down has forced Elvis Dumervil into an every down role. After taking the field for 56.5 percent of snaps in 2014, Dumervil has been on the field for 81.9 percent of snaps this season. An increase in playing time has resulted in diminished productivity. After finishing as our fifth-ranked outside linebacker in PRP in 2014 with 19 sacks, nine hits, and 27 hurries, Dumervil is down to 15th so far through three weeks in 2015. So far, he has two sacks, two hits and 10 hurries, with his only dominant performance coming against Andre Smith and the Bengals. Dumervil wasn’t as effective of a pass rusher prior to taking on his his specialist role in Baltimore, suggesting increased playing time might be behind his slow start.

Something that I’ve noticed since Dumervil has been in Baltimore is that the Ravens have had an unusual listing on their depth chart.  That oddity had been the listing at Sam linebacker as follows: “Courtney Upshaw -OR- Elvis Dumervil”.  I’ve long felt that that listing was evidence of one of the knocks on Dumervil: that despite his great pass rushing skills he can be a liability against the run.  But PFF’s finding here suggests that putting Dumervil on the field too much could be harming both aspects of his game.

Contrast this with Ware. There’s been another line of thought that suggests that the emergence of Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett allows the Broncos to reduce Ware’s own playing time in order to keep him fresh.  But the snap counts tell a different story: Ware has played over three quarters of the snaps, just 1% below Von Miller. Neither Ray nor Barrett have played more than a quarter.

It becomes clearer that there’s a reason why the Broncos were willing to pay the amount that they did for Ware, and also forced Dumervil to take a pay cut from that level: Ware is simply the better player. That shouldn’t be construed as a knock on Dumervil, but an acknowledgement that Ware is a special talent that increasingly looks like he has a bust in Canton in his future.

Perhaps it would have been nice to still have Dumervil in 2013, where the defense could have used that extra talent in making that Super Bowl push. But good general managers recognize when tough, potentially unpopular moves must be made.  This is why John Elway is rightfully in the upper echelon of executives.  Having a snafu with the fax machine may have been embarrassing when it happened, but in the end the luck of the situation has been good instead of bad.