One of the reasons why Jalen Ramsey is so attractive to many Cowboys fans as the No. 4 overall pick is that Ramsey could play both cornerback and safety for the Cowboys. Pairing Ramsey with Byron Jones at safety has many Cowboys fans dreaming of a Kam Chancellor/Earl Thomas-type of safety tandem where both players could make the Pro Bowl.
The last team with two Pro Bowl safeties? Seattle in 2015.
But despite the allure of a stacked secondary, many other Cowboys fans are wondering whether the No. 4 overall pick is too valuable for a safety. Elliott Harrison of NFL.com has a proposal that may work for both types of fans, and suggests former Chargers safety Eric Weddle would be a good fit for the Cowboys:
The Cowboys need cheaper options, and the safety position has traditionally been a spot over the decade at which they have not invested high draft picks. Adding mid-tier free agents there, on the other hand, hasn't been an issue -- it's just that most of them couldn't play.
Weddle is a three-time Pro Bowler, and despite being 30 years old would undoubtedly be an upgrade for the Cowboys. Plus, he's probably not going to break the bank the way many other free agents at other positions likely would.
A few weeks ago, Spotrac.com introduced a new tool called the Calculated Market Value that estimates the likely contract value of the premier free agents on the market. The tool uses a variety of factors, including players it considers comparable, age, and statistical comparisons over the two preceding seasons, to determine a given free agent's value. Here's what they expect for Weddle.
Calculated: 2 years $13.8M ($6.9M AAV)
Likely: 4 years, $28M ($7M AAV)
Much like running backs, safeties simply aren’t commanding the dollars they once did. And those over 30 are annual candidates to be roster cuts/cap casualties. Weddle has an opportunity to buck the trend a bit, with back to back outstanding seasons in San Diego to begin his 30’s. Weddle has likely played his last game in San Diego, and while a high annual average salary isn’t likely, multiple offers on the open market should reward him with a longer term deal, guarantees front-loaded of course.
How would that compare to Jalen Ramsey?
- In 2014, the No. 4 overall pick, Sammy Watkins, signed a rookie four-year contract worth $19.9 million, all of which was guaranteed.
- In 2015, No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper signed a rookie deal worth $22.7 million, all of which is guaranteed.
- In 2016, assuming a similar progression of rookie contracts this year, the No. 4 overall pick will sign a guaranteed contract worth about $25.5 million for four years (or more, depending on where the salary cap ends up this year).
That averages out to a cool $6.4 million per year, and puts the contract of the No. 4 overall pick right in line with what one of the top safeties in the free agent pool is expected to get. Compare that to what the top corners in free agency like Tyrann Matthieu ($14.2 million per year) or Josh Norman ($14.0 million per year) are expected to make.
From a financial perspective, you want to invest the No. 4 overall pick in one of the money five positions like QB, CB, WR, LT, or DE, where you get top quality talent at a significant rebate to the going market prices for top quality free agents.
If the Cowboys were to sign a premier free agent safety like Weddle, they'd upgrade their secondary while at the same time retaining the option of playing Ramsey at a money five position - or drafting another money five position altogether.
As Harrison writes, the Cowboys have a history of adding mid-tier talent at safety via free agency. Ken Hamlin (who inexplicably made a Pro Bowl while in Dallas) and Gerald Sensabaugh certainly qualify as such, though more recent signings like Abram Elam, Will Allen and Brodney Pool didn't work out as well. Perhaps this is the year the Cowboys go after some of the premier talents at safety - in free agency, not in the draft.
In 2011, the Cowboys already tried to sign Weddle in free agency, but lost out to the Chargers. Weddle grew up a Cowboys fan, so there might be mutual interest again this year. But Weddle has also stated that he'd like to play for a contender; we'll see if the Cowboys are able to convince him that they are exactly that.
And if Eric Weddle doesn't excite you, Spotrac suggests that for just $2 million more per year, Eric Berry or Harrison Smith could be available, though it's unlikely the Chiefs and Vikings will let either of them hit the market as a free agent.
Then again, the $7 million for Weddle is a lot of money to invest in a position where you could certainly use an upgrade but don't have a glaring hole. The Cowboys now have Byron Jones as their deep guy, and will have Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox to duke it out for the in-the-box safety position - both Church and Wilcox are solid close to the line but have issues in space.
Adding another mid-tier free agent, as they've done in the past, is probably not going to significantly improve the position. That would probably require a pick in the Top 100 of the draft, or a free agent acquisition like Eric Weddle.
Or the Cowboys may simply trust their safety combo of Jones and Church/Wilcox for another year and focus on shoring up positions where they have bigger needs.