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Three free agent options at safety for the Dallas Cowboys

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Believe it or not, but there are safeties available not named Earl Thomas!

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In late April, Tom Ryle penned an article titled “Mission unaccomplished: Free agents the Cowboys might sign to bolster the safety position.” Then as now, the mission remains unaccomplished, except the safety market has thinned out considerably since then.

Here’s an overview of safeties that have signed with an NFL team since late April:

  • Jun. 5: J.J. Wilcox, originally drafted by the Cowboys and most recently with the Steelers, signs a 1-year, $1.2 million contract with the Jets.
  • Jun. 25: Ron Parker (KC), signs a 1-year, $0.9 million contract with the Falcons
  • Jul. 24: Eddie Pleasant (HOU) signs a 1-year, $0.8 million contract with the Patriots
  • Jul. 25: Tre Boston (LAC) signs a 1-year, $1.5 million contract with the Cardinals.
  • Jul. 25: Shamarko Thomas (BUF) signs a 1-year, $0.8 million contract with the Colts. He is released three weeks later.
  • Aug. 4: Kenny Vaccaro (NO) signs a 1-year, $1.5 million deal with the Titans.
  • Aug. 5: Corey Graham re-signs with the Eagles on a 1-year, $1.7 million deal.
  • Aug: 13: Shamarko Thomas (IND) finds a new home and signs a 1-year, $0.8 million contract with the Broncos.

All the safeties here were presumably available for the Cowboys as well, so there must be specific reasons why the Cowboys didn’t sign any of them, not even for the veteran minimum.

Perhaps the Cowboys are penny-pinchers; perhaps they thought none of the available players were better than what the team already has on the roster; perhaps there were too many strong safety-type players available, while the Cowboys were looking at free safety types; your guess is as good as mine.

What is not in dispute is that with Xavier Woods’ hamstring injury, and with Jameill Showers out for the season with an AC, the Cowboys are embarrassingly short at safety. Earl Thomas has been in the headlines seemingly every day for the last few months, but he’s not a free agent. George Iloka just became a free agent, breathing new life into the safety headlines for Dallas and adding one extra name to the Cowboys’ safety shopping list which looks something like this:

Name POS Age Last Team DEF
snaps
ST
snaps
PFF Grade Comment
2017 Starters
George Iloka SS 28 CIN 992 132 71.4 Cap casualty.
Eric Reid SS 26 SF 740 68 81.4 Active collusion case against NFL.
Mike Mitchell FS 31 PIT 682 45 71.2 Cap Casualty.
Tyvon Branch SS 31 ARI 578 70 88.5 Suffered a torn ACL in Week 10, 2017.
Darius Butler FS 32 IND 504 62 55.2 Four starts at free safety for Colts in 2017.
T.J. Ward SS 31 TB 409 40 74.4 Started just 5 games on the worst defense in the NFL.
Nate Allen FS 30 MIA 362 3 40.2 Placed on injured reserve with a calf injury in October.
Special teamers
Robert Golden FS 27 KC 206 299 72.7 Left the Chiefs voluntarily last week.
Peyton Thompson SS 27 JAC 21 314 62.7 Special teamer who's been cut six times since 2012.
Others
Quintin Demps SS 33 CHI 177 - - 48.6 Placed on IR with fractured forearm in Week 3.
Jairus Byrd FS 31 CAR 137 63 44.7 Zero starts in 2017.
Keith McGill S 29 OAK 71 279 n.a. Had a tryout with the Jets during rookie minicamp.
Colt Anderson SS 32 BUF - - 65 n.a. Spent 12 weeks on IR with fracturing forearm in Week 4.

This late in the season, every available candidate has one or more red flags going against him: too old, too much of a strong safety, too far over the hill, too controversial, you name it.

And the ultimate question for the Cowboys is, which one of the available players, despite the red flags, will improve the Cowboys roster at safety?

Keep in mind that the Cowboys’ young secondary is nothing to sneeze at, at least according to the 2017 grades the secondary got from PFF.

- Starting cornerback: Chidobe Awuzie, 81.7 grade

- Starting cornerback: Byron Jones, 76.8

- Nickel cornerback: Jourdan Lewis, 79.6

- Safety: Jeff Heath, 80.8

- Safety: Xavier Woods, 78.8

With all of the above in mind, here are the three free agents that should be at the top of Jerry’s shopping list.

Eric Reid (6-1, 213, Age: 26)

Reid is not a perfect safety, but he’s easily the best safety on this list and he’s a guy who can come in as a starter right away. In his five years in the league, Reid has started all but one game he’s been in, and he played all over the 49ers secondary, starting as a free safety, then moving to a strong safety role and a finally a hybrid safety/dime linebacker role in 2017.

He’s a very good player who’s embroiled in a collusion case against the NFL, but what better way for the NFL to make that case go away than to sign Reid?

Reid has stated publicly that he is not planning to protest during the national anthem this upcoming season, but in this political climate, this signing would be unpopular in some circles, perhaps even in the Cowboys front office.

Mike Mitchell (6-1, 221, Age: 31)

Cowboys fans don’t have the greatest experience with former Steelers safeties. Dallas signed Will Allen in the 2013 free agency, but released him in October of the same year, whereupon Allen re-signed with the Steelers two days later.

Mitchell was a four-year starter in Pittsburgh but struggled with injuries last season which limited him to 13 games. His production also suffered, as didn’t have a single interception and just two deflected passes all year. Ultimately his cap hit of $8.1 million in 2018 was simply too much for the Steelers.

According to Tom Pelissario of NFL Network, the Steelers told Mitchell they’re still interested in bringing him back - but likely at a steep discount. Mitchell chose to test the market instead and has since visited with the Cardinals (who ended up signing Tre Boston over him) and the Titans (who opted for Kenny Vaccaro). Perhaps his asking price was simply too high. Boston and Vaccaro both signed 1-year, $1.5 million contracts.

Robert Golden (5-11, 202, Age: 27)

Golden is a bit of an odd choice, and certainly a long shot for the Cowboys. He’s also a former Steeler and comes with the same Will-Allen-strings attached. But hear me out.

The Cowboys had almost six months to sign a free agent safety, but apparently didn’t think any of the “signable” players available would be an improvement over Xavier Woods. Woods might miss a game or two with his hamstring injury, but he’s not out for the season, and the Cowboys expect him back early in the season and expect him to be the starter at free safety, regardless of who they sign.

So why not go out and get a safety who can spot Woods for a game or two if needed, but offers some extra benefit to the team even when he’s “just” the backup safety?

Golden is a career special teamer and was the Steelers’ special teams captain from 2014 to 2016, so he definitely brings something to the table there, and at 27 years of age, he’s not too old yet.

Golden signed a 1 year, $0.8 million contract with the Chiefs in April, but last week asked to be released. Per his agent, Golden didn’t feel like he was getting the opportunity to contribute the way he wanted in Kansas City and is now looking to catch on with another team soon.

Given that Golden was already playing on a 1-year deal on the veteran minimum (with no signing bonus), it seems unlikely suitors are lining up to sign him now that he’s once again available as a free agent.

I don’t know that Golden will get an opportunity to be a starter anywhere in the NFL, or if he’s already getting ready to re-sign with the Steelers, or where his head is currently at. But the Cowboys have a history of signing special teams aces in free agency, and Golden might be just good enough in limited spot duty.

And even if he isn’t, the Cowboys could simply move one of their corners to the FS spot, and they’d still be left with a strong contributor on special teams.

And anecdotally, there’s also this:

If nothing else, Robert Golden left Pittsburgh with a perfect 2-2 passer rating, having completed passes on fake punts in the Steelers 2014 home win over the Browns and their 2017 home win against the Bengals.

Poll

Who do you want to see the Cowboys do?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Sign Eric Reid
    (1407 votes)
  • 1%
    Sign Mike Mitchell
    (81 votes)
  • 4%
    Sign Robert Golden
    (186 votes)
  • 5%
    Stand pat
    (214 votes)
  • 14%
    Sign somebody else
    (603 votes)
  • 39%
    Trade next year’s 2nd-round pick for Earl Thomas and make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL at $13+ million per year.
    (1645 votes)
4136 votes total Vote Now