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Cowboys went ‘all-in’ with risk on youthful secondary and won handsomely

Looking back at the Cowboys moves of one year ago, the risk taken with the secondary paid off.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Just one season ago, the Cowboys decided to part ways with almost the entire secondary outside of Byron Jones and Orlando Scandrick. Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, and J.J. Wilcox had all been starters playing significant snaps but the front office decided their time had come to an end. The Cowboys received plenty of flak for this move but they collectively saw the ceiling with their current group wasn’t high enough. Instead, the Cowboys saw an opportunity in the 2017 NFL Draft to get better by getting younger and cheaper:

By not going out and signing pricey veterans to step in, the Cowboys moved their chips to the middle of the table. The front office showed that they had a little bit of that wildcatter in them that is undoubtedly inspired by their owner Jerry Jones. We tend to always think critically about the Cowboys and especially so after they failed to make the playoffs but this was one area that they could hang their hat on. It didn’t come without some growing pains because there were certainly times where a guy like Church could have been helpful.

Their big three losses in Church, Carr, and Claiborne all had solid outings with their new teams. Folks would remind Cowboys fans on various social media platforms every time one of those three made a play. Carr tied his career high with four interceptions. Church had career-highs in pass breakups and interceptions, taking one to the house. Even Claiborne was able to snag a pick but more importantly stay on the field for 15 games.

Kudos to the former Cowboys for having solid production but that doesn’t tell the whole story in why the Cowboys were justified to let them go. They put an emphasis last offseason on getting defensive backs that made more plays on the ball. If it was only about interceptions then sure the veteran exodus won that battle but it’s much more than that. The secondary of 2016 had 52 pass deflections and nine interceptions. This past season they had 72 pass deflections and nine interceptions. That 20 more pass deflections are a very positive sign going forward for this young group.

What’s coincidental is that the rookie trio of Awuzie, Lewis, and Woods combined guessed it...20 pass deflections. Lewis was second on the team with 10, Awuzie was third with seven, and Woods tied for seventh with three. Right off the bat, you could argue that the Cowboys upgraded the secondary making it a more productive unit.

There’s still more to this equation though as David Helman alluded to because the Cowboys also gained three more draft picks to recoup the losses of Carr, Claiborne, and Church. When you take into account that those compensatory picks can now be traded, that’s just another added bonus.

This offseason, the Cowboys let go of another veteran and that was secondary coach Joe Baker. Stepping into his role with a potential promotion to defensive coordinator will be Kris Richard. He has spent the last 10 years as one of the architects of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom”. Richard was instrumental in creating an aggressive but technically sound secondary that bullied opposing offenses and were the gold standard for the past several years. Richard had been the position coach and was later promoted to defensive coordinator before parting ways this offseason.

That hire is another win for the Cowboys because now you have a guy who’s had incredible success working with young secondaries and getting results. Rod Marinelli and every other defensive coordinator have been looking up to Seattle coveting their style of defense. What better way to get there than hiring a guy that was considered the right hand of Pete Carroll’s vision? If Richard succeeds in this role, you can bet he’s going snag the coordinator role and may even get a chance to run his own team one day.

As many things that didn’t go the Cowboys way in 2017, they deserve a little credit for the quick turnaround in the secondary. They took huge gambles that paid off and set themselves up nicely for the future. Was everything perfect? Perhaps not, but then again how can you really draw it up any better than what the Cowboys just did?

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