One of the more popular areas of discussion this offseason has been centered around the safety position. What are the Cowboys plans at safety? Well, this is a loaded question with many different variables to consider.
The first part of the process has already been completed and that’s the hiring of former defensive/secondary coordinator extraordinaire, Kris Richard. When the Cowboys hired Richard, it completed the turnover process to a more aggressive-style secondary that fits the coaching styles of both Richard and Greg Jackson. What it also brings is a change in philosophy and thresholds for what type of players they want in certain spots.
Once the Richard hire was finalized, Jerry Jones made comments that confirmed everyone’s suspicions regarding Byron Jones. It seems as though the Cowboys are committed to finding the right spot for Byron Jones and that spot is cornerback. Now, the Cowboys have the opportunity to play Jones and Chidobe Awuzie on the outside while putting Jourdan Lewis in the slot where he has transcendent abilities. By moving Jones to corner, it does leave a question mark as to what the Cowboys will do at the safety position be it strong or free, they need to find answers for both.
One of the more popular opinions involves a Christmas Eve rendezvous between All-Pro Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and head coach Jason Garrett. Thomas told Garrett: “When this team kicks me to the curb, come get me.” Thomas, a Texas native who graduated a Longhorn, would like to retire with the team he grew up rooting for. It’s understandable, the Cowboys are just one of those teams that are close to people’s hearts. What’s not clear yet is whether this is just Thomas seeking security from the team that drafted him or if this a real possibility. Keep in mind, Thomas is not a free agent, and reports about him leaving Seattle are all over the spectrum:
Been told by a few teams the #Seahawks had open ears at the #NFLCombine. Seattle trade commodities drawing interest: defensive tackle Michael Bennett and safety Earl Thomas. Nothing imminent. But hearing Seattle would like to remedy having zero draft picks in 2nd and 3rd round.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 5, 2018
Shortly after this tweet spread like wildfire and got CowboysNation into a frenzy of folks clamoring for them to make a move, this also crept out without the fanfare of the previous one:
The truth in the matter is probably somewhere in between. The Seahawks have no reason to deal Thomas from the roster but as the ‘Million-Dollar Man’ would say: “Everybody’s got a price!” Speaking of, the price for Thomas is not likely to be cheap because if he were traded, you’re giving up collateral to get him but also going to have to sign him to an extension, which isn’t likely to receive much of a hometown discount.
Is it the right move to go after Thomas? Well, on one hand, you have a five time All-Pro, six time Pro Bowler, and Super Bowl champion playing free safety, a position you truly need to figure out. On the other, you have an guy that has missed seven games over the last two seasons, who will be 29-years-old before the season kicks off. Thomas will also be looking for his third NFL contract that will conclude when he’s well into his 30’s. The question that has to be asked: How long will Thomas’ play be worth the contract he’s going to command?
The other option for the Cowboys is to look towards the draft but it really depends on which safety position they want to address. If they are just looking for a free safety type that can play single high, they could look in the second or third round at guys like Jessie Bates or Jordan Whitehead. If they want a phenomenal player on the level of what they would hope to have by signing Earl Thomas then that is going to require them trading up this year.
The big fish in this year’s class is Derwin James from Florida State. He’s got the size, speed, physicality, and athleticism the Cowboys haven’t seen at the position since Darren Woodson graced the field. Is James the next Darren Woodson? Hold the phone just one minute before we break out that anointing oil. However, James has a rare skill set that is garnering favorable comparisons to another former Cowboys’ standout player in Mel Renfro.
James has the instincts that every team in the league will covet at the safety position. He’s just an explosive player much like Jalen Ramsey was a few seasons ago. He’s not quite the finished product that Ramsey was but James is certainly a blue-chip prospect. In order for the Cowboys to get Derwin James, it’s likely going to take a packaging of their first and second round picks to get there. Though folks don’t like parting with picks, you have to ask yourself if James is that type of catalytic player that is worthy of the jump. If he is then it’s a better option than having Earl Thomas for a few seasons at the end of his career. Stephen Jones is typically a bigger fan of getting his own home-grown talent than spending high dollar for someone else’s. It would also give the Cowboys one of the younger secondaries with astronomical upside.
The last option the Cowboys need to consider is whether or not they already have the necessary talent on the roster that makes these “splash moves” unnecessary. Did Jeff Heath prove one way or the other that he needs to be a starter? Well, he started 15 games, led the team in interceptions (3), was second in tackles (71), and was fifth in passes defensed (5). If Heath is the starter, does he fit at free or strong? He’s got great speed but doesn’t finish his tackles, would that make him a better free safety?
Then there is Xavier Woods, a guy the Cowboys stole in the sixth round of last year’s draft that had 14 interceptions in three seasons in college. Woods started four games but played in all 16, had 42 tackles, was seventh on the team with three passes defensed, and had one go-up-and-get-it pick off Matt Ryan. He was considered more of a strong safety coming out of LA Tech but showed good coverage ability playing strong, free, and even slot cornerback. Could Woods be in line to start at one of the safety positions? He’s at least earned a shot, hasn’t he?
The Cowboys also got solid returns from Kavon Frazier, who deserved to represent special teams in the Pro Bowl. He was a decider on both defense and the kicking game recording 33 tackles and a forced fumble. They liked him so much, they gave him more snaps on defense and he showed great instincts on two memorable stuffs behind the line of scrimmage. Frazier is a big, physical, and athletic player that was the top performer at the 2016 Combine in the bench press among safeties (18 reps). Oddly enough, his pro-comparison was to Barry Church. Frazier seemingly followed that same path showing out on special teams first. He’s got all the traits Richard prefers in his safeties, including length. Could Frazier get a chance to start at strong safety?
There are just so many ways to skin the cat to borrow a terrible analogy. What the Cowboys have to decide is what route is best for the organization. If they trade for Thomas, they get better in a hurry but will only have a short-term answer. If they trade up to snag the playmaker, Derwin James, they set themselves up for the future, but again may have too many needs to part with that second rounder. If they determine to ride with what they have, it’s a risky move that leave them looking for a safety again next season. Or they could go for a lesser prospect in the draft or go bargain-hunting in free agency.
What’s your plan for the Cowboys at safety?
What should the Cowboys do at safety?
This poll is closed
Trade for Earl Thomas
Trade up for Derwin James
Promote from within
Go cheaper in the draft or free agency