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Are the Cowboys flirting with disaster at the safety position?

When is help coming at the safety position?

NFL: Denver Broncos at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Cowboys went 13-3 in 2016, Barry Church and Byron Jones were the starting safeties for the defense. It’s likely that neither will be playing the safety position for the team this upcoming season. That leaves the Cowboys scrambling for some new replacements. Many fans are still hoping that the team pulls off a trade for Earl Thomas, but considering the Seahawks asking price - that doesn’t seem likely. Others are hoping that the front office signs a free agent like Kenny Vaccaro or Tre Boston. But again, I wouldn’t hold my breathe for that.

At some point this offseason, you’d expect the team to address the safety position. With Byron Jones moving back to cornerback, the team currently has Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier as their top safety candidates for the 2018 season. Are you happy with that?

Jeff Heath had a decent season in his first year starting at safety following the departure of Church, but it’s hard to imagine him as the long-term answer at the position. There are times that he absolutely shows up and makes a big play for the defense (like his game-saving play against the Oakland Raiders last year), but then there are other times where he is exposed. Having a player like Heath on the team is a good thing, but it would be more comforting to see him in a role coming off the bench.

The Cowboys made a trade during the draft last year so they could select Xavier Woods in the sixth round. It was a smart move. After suffering a hamstring injury in training camp that slowed his progression early on, he was able to be a solid contributor to the team down the stretch. Woods ended up starting four games for the Cowboys last year and acting as a sub in others, played in over 50% of the defensive snaps. He finished with 40 total tackles and one interception. What kind of player will he be in year two? Is he ready to take on a larger role in the Cowboys defense? Maybe. As it stands right now, Woods is a good candidate to challenge for one of the starting safety spots for the upcoming season.

Kavon Frazier is another player who could see an expanded role in 2018. After spending most of the time on special teams his rookie season, he found himself logging more reps on defense last year. Not only did he establish himself as a new special teams ace for this team, he’s starting to earn a more definitive role with the defense. Is Frazier ready to take a step forward this season? He seems to think so.

While there are reasons to be optimistic about the growth of the Cowboys young defensive backs, is this group of sixth-rounders/undrafted free agents really the answer for this team? The team could look to the draft to upgrade this postion, but even that is no guarantee. Finding a day one starter could be a little difficult considering where the Cowboys are slotted to pick in the draft.

Landing a player like Derwin James would be fantastic, but it would likely require a trade-up situation. He is the complete package and offers the skill-set to be an impact player in the NFL. With great athleticism and strong intellect, drafting James would immediately propel the safety position into an area of strength for the Cowboys. Is he a reasonable candidate though? It will come down to how far he falls and how much draft capital the Cowboys would be willing to give up for him.

If the Cowboys aren’t able to get a star player like James, there are still other options available later in the draft. Stanford’s Justin Reid is a possible target for round two if he makes it to 50. He’s a smart player with great athleticism that would instantly move to the top of the depth chart for the Cowboys. He has great ability in coverage and in a passing league - coverage is gold.

Past the second round, things get a little trickier when it comes to finding a reliable starter. Players like Jessie Bates III or DeShon Elliott are intriguing prospects, but how much better are these players than what the team already has?

What do you think the Cowboys should do at the safety position? Should they make a strong play at one of the top free agents? Should they give up some draft capital to trade for Earl Thomas or Derwin James? If they miss out on the top guys, can they still fill out a solid unit with other options?

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