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With no Earl Thomas, the Cowboys should draft a safety and allow Xavier Woods to shine

With the Earl Thomas question settled, the Cowboys should turn to the draft, it was the right way all the time anyway.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it, free agency is in full swing. All around the league, players are agreeing to deals that pay out huge sums of money. Nick Foles got $88 million over four years in Jacksonville, Landon Collins got $84 million over six years in Washington, and C.J. Mosley got $85 million over five years in New York (with the Jets, not that other New York team).

And then there’s the Cowboys. It shouldn’t be surprising that Dallas is continuing their recent trend of being conservative in free agency, but the big difference here is that they have some cap space this time around. They have made a few moves, mostly re-signing players and adding depth, but nothing big. To keep up with all the news, head over to our free agency tracker.

The biggest story in Cowboys free agency, though, was the pursuit of Earl Thomas. The interest was mutual, and the Cowboys almost traded for the star safety last year on several occasions. But Thomas wanted a big pay day, and he got it from the Baltimore Ravens. Four years for $55 million with $32 million guaranteed. Dallas was not willing to spend anything close to that that much out of concern over the big extensions they’re looking to give to their own players, namely DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper.

And just maybe, the Ravens did the Cowboys a favor. In the long run, going a different route might end up being the better thing. Now, there’s no doubt that Thomas is a great player and, despite his age and injury concerns, Thomas can still make an impact for a defense.

However, if Thomas would have come to Dallas, he would have likely spent most of his time as a center field safety. In Seattle, Thomas was the free safety playing opposite strong safety Kam Chancellor. In that defense, they mostly played Cover 1 and Cover 3, like the Cowboys, and Chancellor was an ideal fit for the box safety role due to his aggressiveness playing the run and shallow pass coverage off the line of scrimmage. Similarly, the athleticism and instincts of Thomas made him a good fit as a center field safety patrolling the deep part of the field.

The Cowboys have a strong candidate for a long-term center field safety in Xavier Woods, who was very impressive in 2018. If Thomas had signed with the team, it likely meant that Woods primarily plays strong safety. While Woods is capable in that role, I believe his true future, the one where he reaches his maximum potential, is center field. Woods has moved around quite a bit in his young career, playing slot corner, free safety and strong safety. He would benefit from having one primary position and that position should be the free safety. Much like Byron Jones blossomed once the Cowboys moved him into a fixed role, Woods could benefit from that same path.

What the Cowboys should be looking for is a box safety to complement Woods. Collins would have been an ideal fit, but for the money that the Redskins gave him, the Cowboys never would have had a shot financially. Instead, the Cowboys should look for cheap, young and talented. It just so happens there are several talented safeties in this draft class that fit the mold of a box safety in the Cowboys’ scheme.

Taylor Rapp of Washington and Juan Thornhill of Virginia are two intriguing prospects, as well as Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram. The Cowboys would have to use their 58th pick to have a shot at any of those guys, but there are also some later round prospects the team could select. This includes Utah’s Marquise Blair, Kentucky’s Mike Edwards, Colorado’s Evan Worthington, Miami’s Sheldrick Redwine, and Fresno State’s Mike Bell. Don’t forget, the Cowboys found Xavier Woods deep in the draft.

Now, it’s an undeniable fact that Thomas, right now, is better than any of these prospects will be in 2019, and better that Xavier Woods, for that matter. However, it’s possible that two or three years from now Thomas may not even be playing anymore, while a well-scouted draft prospect will be hitting their stride. Not to mention the long-term price tag will be drastically lower with a draft selection.

It was fun to envision Thomas with the Cowboys, but Dallas can’t afford to risk the financial security of their larger roster for one player. And with how deep the safety class is in this year’s draft, it becomes easier to think that the Cowboys are actually better off making a move in the draft, at least for the long-term.

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