All of the talk this offseason has centered around the uncertainty at cornerback, the lack of depth at running back and need for a speedy receiver to compliment Terrell Owens. Nick Eatman takes a look at the forgotten position of concern: safety.
Despite Ken Hamlin and Roy Williams - two of three NFC safeties in last month's Pro Bowl - both returning this season under contract, the Cowboys don't seem to know exactly what will occur at the position next season.
Keith Davis left for Miami and he took some veteran experience with him. The Cowboys only have Patrick Watkins and Courtney Brown behind the two starters and Brown has yet to play a game as a safety while making the transition last year from cornerback. Ken Hamlin will only be under contract for 2008 after being franchised by the Cowboys and there are no garauntees that he returns the following year. The Cowboys will work on a new contract with Hamlin during the season but with Al Davis overspending in Oakland market value for Pro Bowl safeties has gone through the roof. Lets hope that Hamlin doesn't become too expensive for the Cowboys.
While depth and long term security is an issue, the real concern has to be the declining play of Roy Williams. When the Cowboys first drafted Roy I was beside myself with excitement. Being a UT fan I knew what this kid from Oklahoma could do. After Roy came in and just started blowing players up all over the field he quickly became my favorite player. Yet things have gone south the past few years and Eatman gives us a quick break down of his play.
Despite making five consecutive Pro Bowls, Williams is not coming off one of his better seasons. In fact, 2007 was arguably the worst of his six-year career. Williams did finish second on the team with 115 tackles, but had no tackles for loss and no sacks. He had just two interceptions, both occurring in the first three games, but wasn't much of a factor in the pass defense the rest of the season.
Williams has struggled in the last couple of seasons in coverage, often making him a liability in nickel and dime packages. The Cowboys even had a package last season that didn't include Williams on every play.
Roy Williams' struggles are well documented. Every Cowboys' fan knows exactly what the opposing offense needs to do to exploit the perennial Pro Bowler. Yet the Cowboys are stuck with him, at least for this year. While Dallas could save some money if he is released after June 1, the Cowboys would have too much dead money locked up in a position where there is no certainty at who could replace him. Dallas Cowboys fans have been calling for the trade or release of Williams for almost two years now. The problem with that notion is who would you replace him with? One idea that has been thrown out there is to move Hamlin back to his natural position of strong safety and have Patrick Watkins take over at free safety. Unfortunately, your backup in that case would be an untested Brown and a rookie. The more pressing issue with that idea though, is that Watkins has yet to show that he has the ability to step up his play to become a starter in the NFL.
No one wants Roy to succeed more than I do and it pains me to admit that his play is costing the Cowboys. Something is missing in his attitude, almost as if he has lost all confidence in his game. I think that Roy has become more of a scapegoat than he deserves but it has become tough to ignore his play over the past few years. The shattering hits and game changing turnovers that were once a staple of his game have become non-existent; this lack of big plays has made his shortcomings in coverage stand out like a sore thumb. This year he is making a number change, from 31 to 38. 2008 will be the final test to see if Roy can pull it together and be the dominant player he once was, instead of the liability he has become. Dallas Cowboys fans better hope for the former since Roy Williams is here to stay, at least for 2008.