During the offseason we all had our personal favorites for who the Cowboys should pursue in free agency at safety. After a horrible season from Alan Ball, we needed to find someone who could come in right away and be a solid player. The first player that came into consideration by Cowboys fans Michael Huff and at first I was sold on that idea. We were in free agency and draft mode on here for a long time last season. The more I looked over Michael Huff, the more I was turned off. He wanted way too much money and didn't seem like the RKG we are looking for.
The Cowboys waited a long time in signing Abram Elam and it wasn't until August 4th that we reached a one year deal worth $2.5 million dollars with Elam. Personally I wanted to sign Elam earlier than we did because he was the best safety on the market and when we kept delaying on signing him the thought crossed my mind that we could lose Elam to another team. There are some teams out there that are regretting not signing Elam to a modest contract, Elam has been really solid for the Cowboys this year. I hate one year deals and a two year deal would have at least guaranteed his return next year.
Elam reminds me a lot of New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott. When Rex Ryan took over as head coach there, the fist thing he wanted to do was bring in a former player of his that knew his system. The Jets waited outside of Scott's house on the night of free agency and once midnight struck, a deal was made. Scott has become the leader of one of the best defenses in the NFL and is a key part of Ryan's exotic scheme. Scott has always been a solid player but this year he may be Pro Bowl worthy. Bart Scott is having a career year for the Jets.
What Elam brought to the Cowboys was solidity to the safety position and a quarterback of the secondary. For years the Cowboys lacked a vocal leader and a player who could lead the secondary. Ken Hamlin was arguably the best at doing this and after his release I became concerned because nobody at the safety position could do what Hamlin did for us. Alan Ball is clearly not a leader and was very green back there playing free safety. Gerald Sensabaugh has made it known he doesn't like to make the secondary calls. Part of the reason for this defenses collapse can be attributed to this.
Since Elam has taken over we are no longer seeing guys with their hands in the air wondering what happened. The confusion has faded and players now know what they are doing. Each player now knows his role and assignment and this is leading to less mistakes. The big mistakes often lead to big plays and we aren't seeing that this year. I believe the Cowboys are in the top 10 in the NFL at plays over 20 yards this year. Abe Elam is a big reason for this success. This is why I wanted to sign Elam so bad because the guy is a leader and a smart football player.
The Elam/Scott comparison is more than just a player knowing the system. Elam is making plays in the backfield like no safety I have seen since Darren Woodson. He is a sound tackler that flies into the backfield because of his perfect timing on the blitzes Ryan is using with Elam. Just like Scott, Elam is Ryan's go to guy. During halftime the two discuss what adjustments need to be made and Elam is Ryan's eyes on the playing field. Much like Bart Scott and Rex Ryan, Abe Elam and Rob Ryan have a chemistry that has developed over the years. This chemistry is key to the defenses success for a few key reasons.
Perhaps the most important element of their chemistry is trust. Having trust in your leader on your defense is a must and these two have great trust with each other. Ryan trusts that Elam will lead this unit and he knows that Elam will not let up big plays. Elam trusts that Ryan is going to put the defensive players in the best position to succeed. This level of trust and chemistry was never seen with Wade Phillips.
Even though the stat sheet is not being filled up, Elam has been immensely productive. Elam has recorded 26 tackles (3rd best on the team), 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery this year. Those aren't eye bulging stats, but sometimes you don't need to fill the stat sheet to be productive. Elam hasn't recorded an interception yet but honestly he really hasn't been tested. You can credit that to either the improved pass rush this year or the fact that Elam is just solid in coverage. Regardless of the reason, Elam is not surrendering big plays and the rest of the defense isn't. We have only let up one pass play over 40 yards this season and compared to last year that is a monumental accomplishment.
We are now the #1 ranked run defense in the NFL and the #7 defense overall. Rob Ryan has done a tremendous job here in Dallas. Ryan only got one defense player from this draft, linebacker Bruce Carter. So once free agency came around we all thought Ryan would get a few of his guys here. As it turned out, Elam and defensive end Kenyon Coleman were the only players Ryan brought in. So far those two signings have been key additions to the Cowboys defense this year. Hopefully next year Ryan (if he is here) is allowed more leverage in personnel decisions, especially in the draft and free agency.
Abe Elam has been a great player for this team this year and I hope he is resigned. At 30 years old, he should be in the prime of his career and should be able to contribute at a high level for a few more years. A modest contract with a 2-3 year length would be in the best interest for the Cowboys and their defense. When you find a leader like Elam who is consistently solid, you need to keep him around. He may not be the Ed Reed ballhawk I so desperately crave, but Elam is exactly the type of player this defense needed. Bart Scott was a modest, but key signing for the New York Jets a few years ago. Abe Elam is beginning to look like a similar type of steal.