Free agents understandably get charged up when they join a new team, at least in part because the excitement of a new challenge often is coupled with a substantial pay raise from a team that has made a conscious effort to add that player, and it’s always comforting to feel wanted.
For Ayodele, however, there’s an added excitement: he’s home.
While the Dallas area generates legions of talented players, running back Tyson Thompson is the only other player in Cowboys history who can say they grew up in Irving, the Dallas suburb where the team’s Valley Ranch training facility is located.
Ayodele arrives in Dallas after spending four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played in 17 games last year (including the AFC Wildcard game), recording 100 tackles and forcing a team-high four fumbles. But while the common perception is that he signed with Dallas because of his lifelong love affair wit the team, the decision, he said, was based on far more than location and finances.
“That wasn’t it, really,” he said. “I probably could have made more money if I stuck it out a little longer, but that’s not what drove me, and as nice as it is to be here, it’s not just because it’s home.
“I had seven teams trying to acquire me, including the Jaguars – they were definitely in the running. But I just looked at the teams and tried to find the best fit. I studied the rosters, the players they had at linebacker, the coaches, the schemes – Dallas was the best fit for me.”
That fit will not be without its adjustments for Ayodele. While some free agents speak of an easy transition as they simply apply new terminology to a scheme with which they already are familiar, Ayodele is starting from scratch with the Dallas defense.
“That’s the biggest thing, the 3-4,” he said. “I’ve never played it. I’ve always played in the 4-3, in college (at Purdue) and in Jacksonville – now I’m moving to the 3-4. Plus, I’ve always played outside – now I’m moving inside. I’ve got a lot to learn.
“But when you look at what we’ve got here, on defense, there’s a lot to get excited about. This defense is young, and fast. There’s a lot of talent here. I’ve been spending some time with Bradie James, watching film, in the meeting rooms, and he’s been here – he knows this defense, and how it’s supposed to work. So where I am now – he’s a big reason for that.”
But the fact remains that if he has to take on a new system, a new challenge, a new position, Dallas is where he wants to do it.
“I’ve always been a Cowboys fan, my whole life,” Ayodele said. “It feels great. It’s such an honor to play for this organization, to wear the star.
“I was in junior high when they won their first Super Bowl (of the 1990s), and a lot of my friends skipped school to go to the parade. I thought about it, but chickened out. I don’t want people to skip school – that’s not the right thing to do – but that’s the goal, to get another parade here for the Cowboys.”