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Cowboys sign UFL’s leading tackler after finding gems in previous spring league players


Following the Dallas Cowboys‘ inactive “all-in” offseason that transformed into the spring of “get it done with less,” the team has been on the hunt for remaining free agents to fill out the margins of their 90-man roster ahead of training camp in late July.

They will look to beef up their depth on defense with St. Louis Battlehawks inside linebacker Willie Harvey Jr., who has signed a deal following a workout with the club, the team announced. In the same announcement, the Cowboys also noted they have signed defensive back Gareon Conley, who is a former first-round pick in 2017 out of Ohio State and, more recently, was on the UFL’s DC Defenders. 

Meanwhile, Harvey led the UFL, the combined spring league created after the merger of the XFL and USFL, in total tackles with 78 during the league’s 10-game season. He also led the all UFL linebackers in tackles for loss (nine), passes defended (six) and forced fumbles (two). 

Harvey’s standout production led to him earning one of the three inside linebacker spots on the UFL’s inaugural all-league team.

“I think it’s just kind of where we are. We’re never done,” coach Mike McCarthy said at organized team activities at the end of May when asked about the Cowboys adding to their roster. “I actually just met with (vice president of player personnel) Will (McClay) for quite some time this morning. We got plenty of really good players to practice and get ready. We were at 88 this time last year.”  

Harvey was an undrafted free agent out of Iowa State in 2019 when the Cleveland Browns picked him up five years ago. He floated between the Browns practice squad and active roster, playing in four career NFL games in as many years. He last played NFL football during the 2021 season, suiting up and recording a tackle in Cleveland’s 26-14 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17. Harvey has two career tackles from those four games in which he only saw the field on special teams. 

Perhaps he can be a diamond in the rough success story like each of the other two players the Cowboys have signed out of the spring football league the last two years. In 2022, Dallas signed USFL MVP wide receiver/return man KaVontae Turpin, and he rewarded its faith by earning Pro Bowl honors as a rookie.

Last season, the Cowboys signed kicker Brandon Aubrey out of the USFL, and he produced a historic season. Aubrey broke the NFL record for the most consecutive made field goals to start a career (35), and he finished tied for second with former Vikings kicker Gary Anderson for the second-most made field goals in a single season without a miss in league history (35), just two off tying the all-time record of 37 set by Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt in 2003. Aubrey also drilled 99 touchbacks on kickoffs, which now stands as the NFL’s all-time, single-season record. Naturally, Aubrey earned 2023 first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. 

Based on Dallas’ track records with spring league signings, it wouldn’t be shocking if Harvey ends up becoming a regular starter, at the very least, in 2024 should he make the team. 

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Author: Garrett Podell
June 18, 2024 | 3:40 pm

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