After looking at cornerbacks yesterday, we continue our leisurely stroll through this year's crop of NFL free agents by taking a look at the available safeties.
The Cowboys have signed Gerald Sensabaugh to a contract extension, but have not renewed Abram Elam's contract, making Elam a free agent. The Cowboys still have Danny McCray and Barry Church on the roster, but as rabblerousr wrote, those two "are probably career special teamers (albeit darned good ones)." And recent practice squad signee Justin Taplin-Ross probably isn't the long-term answer at safety either.
The good news though is that Sensabaugh gives the Cowboys a little flexibility in their personnel choices, as he can play both free and strong safety. However, as we look at possible free agent additions at safety, keep in mind that the Cowboys spent $5 million last year on their starting safeties combined. Sensabaugh's contract pays him an average of $4.5 million per year, so it's unlikely the Cowboys are going to go after the top names in free agency this year. Look for the Cowboys to go after a lesser known and cheaper guy in free agency and/or shore up the position via the draft.
After the break, we look at 20 free agent safeties, how they held up in pass coverage, against the run and how they ultimately graded out.
Establishing a price range
The table below shows a sample of last year's free agents sorted by the size of the contracts they signed prior to the 2011 season. The first column shows where they ranked on PFF's ranking of safeties for the 2010 season, the age is their age per August, 2011.
The table is divided into two tiers. Tier one free agents commanded upwards of five million dollars per year last year, while the tier two players came in at between one and two million dollars on average. Note also the fairly strong correlation between the Overall Grade from Pro Football Focus and the contract figures (a similar correlation was observed by Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats), which is one reason why we'll focus on the PFF grades again this year as we evaluate the free agent safety class.
|2010 Saftey Free Agent Class|
|Rank||Name||Team||Age||Contract per year
||Years||2010 Overall Grade||2011 Overall Grade|
Free agent safeties in pass coverage
We'll use the same stats we used for the corners yesterday, here are the definitions:
Burn rate: number of catches a defensive back allows versus the number of balls thrown at the receiver he is covering. For example, a burn rate of 80% would mean that opponents have completed eight of ten passes thrown at the receiver the cornerback is covering. The lower the number the better.
Defensive Passer Rating (DPR): uses the same data and formula used for the passer rating for the quarterback (i.e. completion percentage, yard per attempt, touchdowns and interceptions), but applies them to a defender, where they become completion percentage allowed (aka 'burn rate'), yards per attempt allowed, touchdowns allowed and interceptions made. The lower the number the better
NFL rank: DPR ranking among 86 safeties who played on at least 25% of their teams' snaps in 2010.
||Team||Snaps||Targets||Receptions||Yards||TDs||INTs||Burn Rate||DPR||NFL Rank|
|* torn patella tendon, future unclear, ** torn hamstring, *** recovering from Achilles surgery, **** considering retiring due to concussions|
While there are more free agents available, these are the 21 that have seen significant playing time in 2011.
Again, just to get the definitions right:
Stops: The number of solo defensive tackles that constitute an offensive failure (defined as 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, and 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down)
Stop percentage: Percentage of total solo tackles that are stops.
NFL rank: Stop percentage ranked against 86 safeties who played on at least 25% of their teams' snaps in 2010.
||Stops||Stops in %||NFL Rank|
|LaRon Landry ***||WAS||27||513||43||4||5||21||48.8%||3|
|Husain Abdullah ****||MIN||26||588||49||2||4||16||32.7%||33|
|Jim Leonhard *||NYJ||29||798||39||3||9||10||25.6%||51|
Overall 2011 Safety Grades:
We'll use the Pro Football Focus grades for this last exercise.
PFF Grades: PFF look at game tape, assign a grade for every play and then ‘normalize’ the data so that the average player for a given position is graded at zero. The higher the positive grading the better the performance and vice versa.
However, these grades are cumulative. Say you have two players who consistently are graded with a +1.0 per game. However, one is injured after eight games, the other plays the full 16 games. The result: one player gets a +8.0 for the season, while the other gets a +16.0 although they basically played the exactly the same.
||Team||Age||Snaps||Overall Grade||Pass Rush||Coverage||vs. Run||Penalties||NFL rank
|Jim Leonhard *||NYJ||29||798||+2.9||-1.9||+5.7||-0.1||-0.8||17|
|LaRon Landry ***||WAS||27||513||+2.3||-1.4||-0.1||+3.5||+0.3||18|
|Husain Abdullah ****||MIN||26||588||+1.0||-0.4||-1.7||+2.2||+0.9||24|
Injury, age or simple not-good-enough-ism make this a very, very weak free agent safety class. On the plus side, we're not likely to see the number of large contracts we saw last year. On the downside, the Cowboys may be hard pressed to find an upgrade over Abe Elam and may actually end up re-signing Elam to another one-year deal
The Cowboys have limited options considering this safety class. They may decide to roll the dice with a short, "prove-it" deal for one of the free agents here like LaRon Landry or Michael Griffin, but they'd be well advised to look for a longer term solution at safety in this year's draft or even via trade.
Who do you think should play the safety spot next to Gerald Sensabaugh in 2012?