Former NFL defensive lineman David Irving could be a nice project for the Kansas City Chiefs.
David Irving is reportedly looking for a portal back into the league.
At this point, it’s unknown whether or not Irving will be even be allowed to play again in 2020 or beyond. The defensive lineman was suspended indefinitely more than a year ago for violating the substance abuse policy. The issue? Irving has made no secret of his appreciation for marijuana.
Not only was Irving suspended, but the 26-year-old lineman stated he “quit” the league because of their stance on marijuana in the first place. For several months, Irving insisted he was happy without playing any football, and he even got into the cannabis business while he was away from the game. Now, however, he’s reportedly looking for a way back in, possibly because the NFL is easing up on their anti-marijuana stance of years past. The future might not include such suspensions for players like Irving.
The word on Irving’s interest in returning comes from Jay Glazer who stated in a recent mailbag column that Irving had already called him and could be the next Aldon Smith, another suspended player given a chance to return.
The obvious angle for Irving’s comeback, if there is one, would be with the Dallas Cowboys, the very team that employed him for the majority of his NFL career. However, check out these words on his very exit from the team in the first place.
"“(Then-)coach (Jason) Garrett told me I should just stop playing and to smoke all the weed I wanted because the team didn’t need me anymore,” Irving said. “It was pretty clear they were done with me.”"
It’s very possible owner Jerry Jones and his staff could mend fences with Irving, if they so desired, given that Jason Garrett has been replaced by new head coach Mike McCarthy. That said, the door could be wide open for any team who wants to take a chance.
What does Irving offer?
Before we get into a new potential home, let’s remind ourselves of the burgeoning pass rusher that Irving was becoming in Dallas before his indefinite suspension.
First, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Irving hasn’t played in a game since the 2018 season, and even then he only played 56 snaps across two games in the first half of the year. He had 4 tackles, 2 QB hits and 1 sack that year. The most starts that Irving has ever made is 8 in a single season, and he’s only played in 15 or more games once in his NFL career.
However, in 2017, Irving looked like an emerging force along the defensive interior, the sort of disruptive talent who can collapse the pocket from the middle. In only 8 games, all starts, the Cowboys watched Irving put up 7 sacks, second on the team behind DeMarcus Lawrence. Irving’s final line included 22 tackles, 10 quarterback hits, and 1 forced fumble. He also showed excellent awareness in the pocket by getting his hands up and batting away 6 passes.
In 2016, the signs were there that Irving would blossom as he did. As a rotational lineman across 15 games, he had only 4 sacks but he also put up a career-high 15 quarterback hits and forced 4 fumbles. Those aren’t just solid numbers; they are indicative of a player who is getting consistent push against the pocket. Pro Football Focus also praised his pass-rushing productivity:
"Irving showed in 2017 that he can rush the passer when on the field His 83.1 pass-rush grade was the seventh-highest by an interior defender. His 8.6 pass-rush productivity that season was tied for the second-highest behind only Aaron Donald"
Why Kansas City?
General manager Brett Veach is not averse to signing a project. In fact, he already added former first round defensive end Taco Charlton to the roster in the hopes of finding value in a player already cast aside by multiple teams.
The Chiefs are also somewhat familiar with Irving already given the fact that then-GM John Dorsey is the first one to ever sign Irving to a professional contract. Irving was an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs back in 2015 and started that very season on the team’s practice squad. From there, the Cowboys poached him injury needs arose and he ended up in Dallas thereafter.
Up front, the Chiefs look quite solid already, especially if Chris Jones is around. Jones is the presence that Irving would like to be, one with a predictable level of production based on a history of elite talent and availability. From there, the Chiefs have a solid defensive tackle in Derrick Nnadi and an emerging force in second-year player Khalen Saunders. Mike Pennel came on strong last year as a midseason free agent addition and was re-signed in the team’s Run It Back campaign.
The competition is even more fierce on the outside where players like Charlton and former second round pick Breeland Speaks are competing for limited reps alongside Tanoh Kpassagnon, who is in a contract year, and fifth round pick Michael Danna. Promising young players like Demone Harris and Tim Ward are also around. With starters Frank Clark and Alex Okafor also in place, the line as a whole is going to feature some tough roster calls.
However, there’s a single maxim repeated each season in the NFL for good reason: you can never have enough pass rushers. Many of the aforementioned names come with as many questions as answers. It’s easy to project good things for a guy like Charlton, for example, but the odds work against him. Speaks has proven little at the pro level and investment won’t matter in training camp. Pennel looked good last year, but was a journeyman before that with the Packers, Jets, and Patriots. Kpassagnon has never put it all together with consistency, Okafor has a long injury history, Danna was considered a reach, and no contender should lean on Ward and/or Harris.
In other words, it’s possible for a need to arise even with the number of bodies the Chiefs have on the roster. And Irving is—or at least was—that rare sort of talent who can take a straight path to the pocket. The NFL is learning to love guys like Jones and Aaron Donald more and more, and Irving looked like a player offering a shade of that as long as he could play.
Irving’s body of work isn’t extensive. Suspensions and a concussion that held him out of four starts in 2017 have all limited his time on the field. However, Irving will be only 26-years-old—the same age as Tyreek Hill or Chris Jones or Tanoh Kpassagnon—this season, and there’s a reason he’s termed a project in the first place.
If Irving is available on the cheap and willing to return to the team that signed him in the first place, he’s the sort of chance worth taking.