The 2018 NFL draft provided the Cowboys with plenty of new manpower for the upcoming season, except at one position. The Cowboys never took a safety, even though they were in the market for one. Stephen Jones admitted afterward that they had considered drafting one at different points in the draft, but they had other players ranked higher and stuck with their plan.
With Byron Jones moving to corner, the Cowboys really have three main options for the two safety spots. Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier. At the end of last season, Byron Jones, who had spent a good deal of time as the “box” safety in 2017, was routinely being replaced by Kavon Frazier. That left Jeff Heath to man the free safety position, and Xavier Woods was actually spending a lot of time in the slot.
So this raises the question, what are the Cowboys plans at safety, especially if they don’t bring in a significant veteran either through trade or the free agent market? Earlier today, we discussed some of the free agent possibilities for the Cowboys at safety. We’ll have to see if anything happens but the Cowboys might not be in the market for those guys.
The club has signed three safeties in the rookie free agent market since the draft ended late Saturday afternoon. The most attractive veterans on the market are Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro and Tre Boston. They are more strong safeties, a position the Cowboys aren’t looking to fill.
Boston said his agent has spoken to the Chargers about re-signing, but the two sides have reached an impasse because “they think I’m more of a strong safety-type of player.” Value at that position is generally lesser than at free safety because playing the latter requires better range, especially in pass coverage.
What this does tell us is the Cowboys must feel pretty good about their strong safety options, the “in-the-box” guy. Last year, at the end of the season, that guy was Kavon Frazier. He brought an aggressiveness and physicality that the Cowboys defense was lacking from their safeties. He received very good reviews for the second-half of the 2017 season. His skill set is such that you don’t want him playing back as your center fielder. If the Cowboys aren’t in the market for a strong safety, you’d have to guess that Frazier is a big reason why.
Meanwhile, Jeff Heath is a versatile player who can swing between both positions, but is also a guy who you’d rather have as your backup instead of your starter. Yes, Heath occasionally makes the big play, but his inconsistency in taking proper angles and picking up the correct routes to cover is an issue. The Cowboys would likely want to have him as their reserve safety, and a special teams ace.
So who does that leave as the possible starter at free safety? Xavier Woods.
”I don’t know that we need numbers,” Jones continued. “I don’t think that’s the issue. I think the bigger question is can we find a guy who can really compete with Xavier (Woods)?
”At the end of the day, that was the goal in the draft and it didn’t work out that way.”
So Woods is the guy until they find someone to compete with him. It doesn’t seem like they consider Jeff Heath as the guy to compete with him. Instead, they note they have corners who can fill in back there if needed - mainly Jones, and Chidobe Awuzie.
“We’ll continue to look at options as we move forward and continue to see what happens within our roster,” Jones said. “We do have corners who can play that position. They’ve done so before and certainly, depending on how the competition works out over these OTAs and mini-camp and training camp, we’ll see how that works out.
”But we certainly haven’t ruled out continuing to look for somebody that might could step up back there and compete with Xavier for that free safety spot.”
So if you read the tea leaves, it seems like the Cowboys plan is to play Xavier Woods as the center field safety, unless they bring in someone to beat him out. And the guess is Kavon Frazier is going to get first shot at strong safety, with Jeff Heath playing a reserve role.