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Cowboys opted to be patient in the free agency safety market. Was it a good move?

The Cowboys finally made a move at safety, signing free agent George Iloka.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys sat patiently through the first wave of free agency while monitoring the action at the safety position. Avoiding that first wave of spending was very smart on the Cowboys part even if it meant missing out on the action:

  • Landon Collins defected from one NFC East rival to another, signing a monster deal worth up to $84M with Washington.
  • The Cowboys were forever linked to Earl Thomas but that reported “interest” may have been just a tad oversold. Dallas isn’t interested in anything close to the four-year, $55M deal he got with Baltimore.
  • Tyrann Mathieu, LaMarcus Joyner, and Kareem Jackson round out the position for double-digit figure per season averages. A few others like Tashaun Gipson, Eric Weddle, and Kenny Vaccaro got some extra cash but nowhere close to that top-end.

As for the Cowboys, they visited with free agents Clayton Geathers, former All-Pro Eric Berry, and George Iloka before ultimately signing Iloka. No surprise, the one-year deal for George Iloka is very favorable to the Cowboys:

What the Cowboys did at the position is becoming sort of a trend though there are always exceptions like the aforementioned safeties that got paid. The standstill at the position began in last year’s market where total spending league-wide was just $85M and total guarantees were $35M, about 40% of the contract. The top-dollar contract for the last season went to Kurt Coleman at three-years and $13.35M. Coleman was released after one season.

Looking at the Top-5 safety contracts last season, the total combined was only $41.3M, which is a far cry from the $259M combined in 2019. The average deal for a safety last season would have been two-years, $8.3M. However, this season, those Top-5 deals include top names like Landon Collins, Earl Thomas, LaMarcus Joyner, Tyrann Mathieu, and Adrian Amos. The average deal signed this offseason is four years, $52M. The talent level in this year’s free agent class is the reason for the increase in spending but does it mean that safety has made a miraculous return to a premier position in football? Not really.

24 of 51 free agent safeties have found new homes for the upcoming season and 16 of those only found deals for two years or less. Out of the $377M in total spending, only $177M of that is was guaranteed at signing and all but $8M is split between 10 players. In fact, of those ten guys, the average out-clause is two years, $21M per club. Safety has become a case-by-case study much like running back, there are a few great ones that will get paid, the rest will just shuffle in place accordingly.

Even on the gigantic deals signed by the Top-5 in this class, all of them have substantial protection for the club in the contracts. For instance, LaMarcus Joyner’s four-year, $42M deal has an out-clause at one-year, $9M. The guarantee percentages for safeties only increased from 40% to 47%, not exactly a giant leap. The Cowboys kicked the tires on the Earl Thomas’ and Eric Berry’s of the world but decided that dependability was more important. As great as Thomas could be, this is a guy that has two broken legs in the past three seasons. Eric Berry is a sensational talent but has played in three games over the course of the last two seasons.

The Cowboys got a sweet deal for George Iloka, who has played in 48 games over the last three seasons. He may not have the name recognition of some of the other safeties that got paid this year, but he’s durable and looks like he can fit nicely as a box safety.

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