It seems like every offseason we hear the same Dallas Cowboys rumor. This is finally the year they are going to acquire a starting-caliber safety in free agency, or take one early in the draft. Last year it was the rumor they were going to go after Earl Thomas, or that they would take Taylor Rapp or Juan Thornhill in the draft. Of course, as we now know, none of these things came to be.
Things are much different in Dallas than they were just one short year ago. For the first time since 2010, the Cowboys have a new head coach, and with him, he brought almost an entirely new coaching staff. The front office remains intact, but a new staff likely means changes in how they value players in the draft and free agency.
Once again this year brings some intriguing options at the safety position. Grant Delpit and Xaiver McKinney are likely to be high-round draft picks, and HaHa Clinton-Dix, Karl Joseph and Tre Boston are guys the Cowboys could be interested in during free agency. But, there is one free agent safety who is affordable, familiar with the organization, and has plenty of starting experience in the NFL.
That guy is Jeff Heath. In his seven years in Dallas, Heath has definitely had his detractors among Cowboys fans. Plays like when he got out-jumped by Calvin Johnson and run over by Adrian Peterson have fueled the fire.
Jeff Heath gets a lot of grief from some #DallasCowboys fans and understandably so.— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) October 22, 2019
But this was a key play: 3rd down stop when the Eagles had a chance to tie the game on this early 2nd Q drive.
Helps that Miles Sanders danced around. pic.twitter.com/TqAnu6ZVkt
But there have been positives, too. Consider that 2019 was the first season since 2014 that Heath did not have at least one interception. He led the Cowboys in interceptions in 2015 and 2017. Heath has recorded at least 40 tackles in three straight seasons and has been a special teams ace when he has been able to contribute on that unit. Last season Heath was only able to play 36% of the team’s special teams snaps, due to him being used heavily in their defense.
The Cowboys special teams unit was arguably the worst in the NFL last season. Football Outsiders ranked them 30th in the league overall and worst in the league in terms of kick return differential. If Dallas wants to be back in the postseason in 2020, their special teams must be better. New special teams coordinator John Fassel’s job would be much easier if Heath was to return.
If the Cowboys decide to bring Heath back, it would likely come on a team-friendly deal. It would give them a safety net of someone who could start Week One if they decided not to do anything else at the position, but he would not prevent them from still drafting a safety high or going after another safety in free agency.
If the Cowboys bring Heath back, they still could take someone like Antoine Winfield Jr. with pick 51 in the draft. Having Heath in their back pocket would give Dallas depth at safety and Heath still could contribute where he does best, on special teams.
It wouldn’t be a sexy acquisition, and probably would make a decent amount of Cowboys fans fairly angry, but bringing back Jeff Heath is a smart move for this team. With Dak Prescott and Amari Copper getting new deals in the near future, the Cowboys must be smart how they dish out their money. Retaining Heath would be a move that would not cost much, and would give Dallas more flexibility in their offseason plans and help their special teams.