Injuries, Weight Issues Led To Disappointing End For Willie Blade With Cowboys
(A year-by-year look at one draft pick the 21st Century Dallas Cowboys would love to throw back)
2001: Willie Blade (3rd-round, 93rd overall)
In a league where the competition is keen and quality players are in abundance, opportunities can be severely limited for the majority of individual players. Certain players may get one chance. Some may get two.
In the case of Willie Blade, even three.
With talent a scarce commodity along the defensive front, Willie Blade had a prime opportunity to earn his way onto the playing field as a rookie in 2001. Gone were longtime staples Chad Hennings and Leon Lett, giving Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer hope that Blade would fall in behind Michael Myers and Brandon Noble as the team’s first reserve tackle.
Instead, the 3rd-round pick from Mississippi State showed up to training camp embroiled in a contract dispute. After missing two days of practices, Blade finally took to the field, where the second-team All-SEC selection duly injured himself and earned a spot on the injured reserve list.
A year later Blade was back at Cowboys camp looking overweight and very sluggish, prompting his immediate release. Intrigued by his upside and large frame, the league’s newest team duly picked him up. The Houston Texans thought Blade would be a natural fit at nose tackle in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. But another lackluster training camp earned Blade another full season on the bench.
Meanwhile, back in Dallas, Bill Parcells was the new head coach and in search of a big body to beef up a small defensive line. When Zimmer recommended Blade, Parcells agreed to give him a tryout.
Not only did he make the team, but earned his first career start in Week 2 at the Giants, a spot he would not relinquish. While being used primarily on running downs, Blade tallied 16 tackles on the season for the league’s No. 1 ranked defense. His lone sack of the year came against Jesse Palmer in Dallas’ 19-3 playoff-clinching victory over the Giants in Week 16.
While Parcells appreciated his work ethic on the field, the old ball coach had a strong distrust for Blade’s habits off it, so had no remorse at cutting ties with Blade the following spring when the 315-pounder showed up for workouts overweight and lackadaisical.
After playing minimally with Jacksonville in 2004, Blade signed a third contract with Dallas in 2005. But before the third time could prove to be the charm, he tore his Achilles tendon while playing in NFL Europe, signaling the end of not only his Cowboy career, but his football career as well.
(You can read more about Willie Blade and the Dallas Cowboys’ of 2001 in Ryan Bush’s book “Decade of Futility.”)