Now that Jay Ratliff is on the PUP list to start the season, the Cowboys have to count on Nick Hayden, an afterthought in the league a year ago who earned a job at training camp in Oxnard.
“Nick has done a good job,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said this week at Valley Ranch. “Obviously, guys step up and are competitive and do what they’re supposed to do. We’ve gotten to a point with Nick that we think he can play winning football for the Dallas Cowboys, and that’s important.”
Hayden is a former sixth-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008. He is listed as a six-year veteran, but his résumé is sketchy at best. He played two games as a rookie, 10 games in 2009 and 14, including 10 starts, in 2010. He was cut before the 2011 season and was out of football until he was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals, playing two games at the end of the season.
He suffered an ankle injury in camp last year and was waived. Even when he returned to health, Hayden drew no interest from around the league, not even for a tryout. The Cowboys signed him on Feb. 11 for depth purposes as they transitioned to the 4-3 alignment.
“We heard good things about him, and that’s why we brought him in -- he had a good reputation," coach Jason Garrett said. "Sometimes that happens. Guys falls through the cracks. All they need is an opportunity, or maybe the right fit."Hayden came in hoping to make the team, but now he’s a starter, turning last year’s disappointment and Ratliff’s setback into a dream come true.
“You never know when this game is going to end. That’s why you just have to take full advantage of every opportunity,” Hayden said. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity to come here. I’ve just got to run with the opportunity and show this team what I got and why they picked me up.”
-- Clarence Hill