This is the 14th installment of a series of articles evaluating the Dallas Cowboys current roster in anticipation of the April draft. This evaluation deals with the free safety position.
The Cowboys have three free safeties listed on their roster.
Starter – Ken Hamlin (projected)
The Cowboys brought in free agent safety Ken Hamlin from the Seattle Seahawks to quarterback the Cowboys secondary. It’s not a lock that he will be the starter but he would have to totally bomb in training camp not to be the starter on opening day. He’s a veteran presence who had some very good years in Seattle. But by most accounts, he hasn’t been the same player since he came back from the head injury suffered two years ago. Hamlin has a reputation as a hitter who can also cover. He also has the reputation of a hard worker who drags the other defensive backs to film sessions after practice. Wade Phillips is counting on Hamlin to be the voice of the secondary, making sure that everybody knows what they’re doing and where to line up on each play. That’s his task besides playing center field and giving Roy room to operate near the line. He signed a one-year deal, so we know he’ll be hungry. If he can return to his pre-injury play, the Cowboys will be thrilled, and will start looking to re-sign him.
Reserves – Pat Watkins, Keith Davis
Pat Watkins learned about the NFL the hard way in his rookie year. Thrown into the fire from the start, Watkins was burned too often and lost his job. One look at his head down on the sidelines during the Eagles game and you knew he wasn’t ready. To his credit, he battled back and played better down the stretch, providing promise for the future. He should be the primary backup at free safety, and may find his way on the field in some specialty defenses. He also adds value to the special teams. And depending on what happens over the season with Hamlin, he could be the starter of the future. He has the physical tools to get it done; some tutoring under Hamlin should help his cause.
Keith Davis is probably looking at a role of special teams only, unless Watkins regresses in training camp. Otherwise, Davis is a valuable weapon on special teams and may even benefit from concentrating on that aspect of the game.
Free safety was high on the list before the signing of Ken Hamlin, now the Cowboys have options. They believe Hamlin can be the starter, and they think they have something in Pat Watkins. But neither of those scenarios is guaranteed to turn out well, so they could still dip into a deep safety pool in this year’s draft. But they could also decide to go with their current roster, and get help next year if they are still in trouble. If someone of value falls in the draft, they could grab him, but they don’t need to now.