Weddle me this, Weddle me that...who's afraid of another year of watching J.J. Wilcox take bad angles on receivers allowing them to turn an eight-yard gain into a 45-yard touchdown?
I know I am. Hopefully, the Cowboys took a step in addressing this issue last year with the selection of Byron Jones. He looks like he's going to be a great free safety in this league. And the Cowboys have Barry Church to hold down the strong safety position, but his 2016 salary is rather pricey ($4.25 million base) so will he even be around? Maybe. The Cowboys have bitten the bullet in the secondary with Brandon Carr for mediocre play, so what's four million to Church. But whether Church is in the picture or not, the Cowboys need to strengthen the depth at the safety position.
So what type of options are available in free agency?
If you aren't caught up on the position analysis work so far, here are the links to what we've covered to this point:
Now, we'll look at the available safeties that will be on the market this year. Before we look at this season, let's check out how things went last off-season to see if there is anything that can be learned. Here are the top 20 free agent safeties from last season, the amount they signed for, and how they performed in 2015 (grades courtesy of Walter Football, rating courtesy of PFF):
So the New England Patriots finally spent some big money on a free agent. Of course, it's their own player that has demonstrated strong play for several seasons, so it was a rather justified investment. They gave him a lot of money and he gave them a lot of production. The Cleveland Browns Tashaun Gipson would have been a steal for his RFA price, but an ankle injury limited his effectiveness. The cost correlates reasonable well to the production for these 2015 free agents. The only standout from this group was bargain signing Patrick Chung and to no surprise - it's from New England. Chung played solid through his rookie contract, enticing the Philadelphia Eagles to give him a 3-year/$10 million deal. He wasn't as good in Philly so he was cut after just one season. Then, he goes back to New England and plays well again. Funny how that works.
Are there any bargain buys out there this season? Or should Dallas take a look at one of the more expensive players. Here are the top 20 free agent safeties available this season and how they performed in 2015 (grades courtesy of Walter Football, rating courtesy of PFF):
NOTE: Eric Berry has been franchised. The first thing that jumps out is that the Kansas City Chiefs have a great secondary. Not only do they have two stud cornerbacks in Sean Smith and Marcus Peters (Smith is a free agent), but three good safeties led by Comeback Player of the Year - Eric Berry. The Chiefs will not be retaining all these players as some other team will take advantage of Kansas City's surplus of talent at the safety position (As noted, the team franchised Eric Berry). Buyer beware - it's easier to look good when you got so many other talented players around you.
Another thing to notice is how there are a lot of good quality safeties in the $4 to $6 million price range. This could make things interesting for Dallas. After all, that's close to what they'd be paying for Barry Church. Would the Cowboys be able to get more bang for their buck with one of these mid-level safeties?
Who should the Cowboys after?
The playmaking ability of a two-time All-Pro is alluring to a lot of fans. Weddle is a guy who has picked off seven passes one season and registered 127 tackles in another one. Now, he didn't have any picks last year and had a career low 76 tackles. Of course, part of that was attributed to missing three games due to injury. But that in itself is a concern as he's only missed three games in his previous seven season with San Diego since becoming a starter in 2008.
Prediction: No chance. Nobody defeats father time and Weddle will demand sizable contract and it will be hard to live up to that type of investment. He's the exact type of player that Stephen Jones' alludes to when talking about good players being paid like they're great players.
In 2012, when the Cowboys drafted safety, Matt Johnson - I was upset. Not because I knew Johnson was a bust, because I didn't. In fact, I knew absolutely nothing about him. I was more upset that we passed on Boise State safety, George Iloka. He was one of the players that I researched and really liked. To start with, he's got a good head for football. He's a smart player who can diagnose the play and react to the ball quickly. He's got the stature and leaping ability of a skilled free safety corner, but is physical enough to be effective in run support. Over the course of his four seasons with Cincinnati, he's tallied 189 tackles, 20 pass break-up, five interceptions, and two forced-fumbles. If the Cowboys decide to spend some good money at the safety position, Iloka is the guy to target.
Prediction: Not likely. There are two things going against this signing - first, his stellar 2014 season followed up by a strong 2015 means he won't be cheap...and two, the Cowboys are cheap.
The Detroit Lions are reportedly interested in Iloka to upgrade their safety position. This would leave their own free agent, Isa Abdul-Quddus looking for a new job and would fit in nicely in Dallas. The Cowboys like young guys with a lot to prove. Similar to Church, Abdul-Quddus is an undrafted player that worked his way onto the roster. Last year, he started out as just a specials team's player, but he eventually won a starting job. He is a strong run-stopper and is very similar to Barry Church (wearing the same number probably helps), however Abdul-Quddus is solid in pass coverage. Plus, he's already demonstrated that he likes teeing off on a familiar foe.
Prediction: Possible. He's not a big upgrade at the position, but partnering him with Byron Jones would sturdy up the safety position.
Branch was the odd man out when it came to who got the starting nod. With Eric Berry and Husain Abdullah on the team, it was hard to earn snaps. But when Abdullah went out will a concussion, Branch stepped in and played well. He could easily start for several teams in the league with Dallas being one of them.
The Cowboys are desperately in need of players who can generate takeaways. Branch had a pick and a fumble recovery last season, both of which he took to the house.
Prediction: Possible. The surplus of free agent agents with his skillset could drop down the price a bit. The Cowboys will be shopping a low-priced contributor.
The Cowboys like players who can contribute in different ways. The Pittsburgh Steelers Robert Golden is a solid reserve safety, but he also is a star player on special teams. In fact, he's the captain of their ST unit and that's another trait the Cowboys value. The Steelers have another free agent safety, Will Allen, who will also hit the market. The Cowboys know Allen all too well as he was signed as a free agent in 2013. He was cut after five games and returned to Pittsburgh. And he's been solid for the Steelers. In fact, he is coming off his best season with a career high 77 tackles. So while Golden would seem like the most likely safety to keep for Pittsburgh because he's much younger, the Steelers might not be willing to part with Allen just yet.
Prediction: Good chance. This is the type of player the Cowboys will be looking for. He's young and has upside if given more opportunities.
Up to this point, I've mentioned a handful of safeties that would help improve the position group. That stops here. While Conte had a solid season in Tampa Bay, he was a hot mess in Chicago. The Cowboys might opt to riffle through the dumpster looking for anything of value. That is what they'll get if they sign Conte. As you can see, he will need some work on his tackling technique.
On this play, Buffalo's running back, Fred Jackson had 20 YAC....yards-after-Conte
Prediction: Possible, but please don't do it, Jerry.
Which safety do you want the Cowboys to go after?