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Digging into the season new Cowboys free agent safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had last year

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Just what kind of safety are the Cowboys getting?

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

So the Cowboys went out and got a safety. It turned out to be the one many had already connected to the Cowboys because he was drafted by, and played for, head coach Mike McCarthy. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the guy and he signed a one-year deal that’s pretty much on the low end of a starting safety.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports the deal is for one year and worth $4 million with $2.5 million guaranteed.

Clinton-Dix, who turned 27 in December, started all 16 games for the Bears in 2019 and finished the year with 78 tackles and two interceptions.

Clinton-Dix has had an up-and-down career so far. One thing you can never question, though, is his durability as he has played in all 16 games every season he has been in the league. He was voted to some ‘rookie of the year’ teams, and put up some decent AV numbers from Pro Football Reference in his second and third year. 2016, his third year, is generally considered his best year where he made the Pro Bowl, put up an AV of 9, and got a ton of recognition for five interceptions that year. He also made Second-Team All-Pro that season.

The following season was when it appears his play started to decline, so much so that the Packers shipped him out in 2018, mid-season, to Washington for a fourth-round pick. Many observers point to the half year in Washington as the nadir to his career, and was the time when he was starting to get written off by many observers.

His standing was low enough that he signed a one-year, $3.5 million prove-it deal with the Bears to replace the departed Adrian Amos.

So let’s start a look at that year, which according to many sources who watched the Bears closely in 2019, was a bounce-back year. Pro Football Reference gave him an AV of 8 for 2018, only one point off his standout year in 2016.

When Clinton-Dix signed with Chicago in 2019, Pro Football Focus graded it as an “elite” signing.

Bears sign S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to a one-year, $3.5M deal

The safety market rebounded in a big way this offseason, with a number of prominent players cashing in, including former Bears safety Adrian Amos who latched on with the Packers. While Amos has been among the best, most sound safeties in football in recent years, replacing him with Clinton-Dix on a low-cost deal represents tremendous value. Despite changing teams mid-season, the former Alabama product finished with a career-best 82.0 coverage grade that ranked 14th among safeties. Clinton-Dix hasn’t been as consistent as the man he will replace, but his versatility and playmaking ability paired with Eddie Jackson should give the Bears a quality safety tandem yet again in 2019.

At the end of the 2019 season, PFF gave Clinton -Dix some pretty darn good grades.

As we’ve said many times, PFF grades are not the end-all, be-all of analysis. Your mileage may vary depending on how you view things. Noted Cowboys writer Bob Sturm is not a fan of the Clinton-Dix signing. You can read his Twitter feed for more opinion, but here is just a sample:

There is definitely mixed opinion on Clinton-Dix. I decided to check out a few Chicago Bears sites to see what they were saying about Clinton-Dix once the season was over and before free agency took off.

Over at Sports Illustrated, we have this assessment.

Last year [the Bears] lost Bryce Callahan, a slot corner who had a lot of injury time in Chicago, then missed all of 2019 after Denver overpaid to sign him. And they had to find a replacement for Adrian Amos, which Ha Ha Clinton-Dix accomplished quite well.

...His contract was a one-year, prove-it deal at $3.25 million. He definitely proved he belonged, with two interceptions, five passes defended and two fumble recoveries. Pro Football Focus gave him the highest grade for 2019 of all five Bears regular defensive backs, at 74.2.

That’s pretty superficial, let’s check on another. NBC Sports Chicago:

The only real question that was facing the Bears defense at the start of last season was whether free-agent acquisition Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be able to adequately replace Adrian Amos, who left Chicago for greener pastures with the Packers.

Now that the season is in books, the answer was a resounding yes. In fact, Clinton-Dix was one of the Bears’ top all-around players in 2019 and is a priority for GM Ryan Pace to re-sign this offseason.

Clinton-Dix finished 2019 with 78 tackles and two interceptions, including a defensive touchdown in Week 3 against the Redskins. He was the sixth-highest graded defender on the team, per Pro Football Focus, with a 74.2. It was a return to form for the former first-round pick who was selected to the 2014 All-Rookie Team and was a 2016 NFC Pro-Bowler.

It seems in general there was a belief that Clinton-Dix had a strong season in 2019. That also lines up with the Pro Football Reference AV value and the PFF grade.

Another Bears site decided to match up Clinton-Dix with Adrian Amos, the guy he replaced in Chicago and who got a four-year, $36 million contract with the Packers in the 2019 offseason.

Clinton-Dix was targeted in coverage on 44 targets, allowing 26 completions. Amos was targeted seven more times, 51, giving up 10 more completions, 36. Clinton-Dix allowed a 59.1% completion rate to 70.6% by Amos.

It is also worth noting that 2018 Amos allowed a 61% completion rate, on 33 receptions.

Clinton-Dix allowed 11 yards per completion and 6.5 yards per target. Amos allowed 11.7 yards per reception and 8.3 targets. Considering Amos was consistently closer to the line of scrimmage, this is a strong statement for Clinton-Dix having a better year in coverage.

2018 Amos allowed 9.1 yards per completion and 5.5 yards per target. His 2018 version was the best of the bunch.

The knocks against Clinton-Dix seems to be two-fold. He’s a risk-taker that can get burned, and that he’s a lousy tackler.

However, near the line of scrimmage, Amos has been the better player. Amos has 23 run stuffs near the line of scrimmage and four tackles for loss. Clinton-Dix has 15 stuffs and did not have a tackle for loss.

Clinton-Dix also came with more missed tackles. His nine missed tackles was a 10.3% missed tackle rate. Amos had a 5.5% missed tackle rate, which is even better than 2018 when he had a 9.9% missed tackle rate. This is the one area where Amos did improve.

We’re really not going to know which Clinton-Dix is going to show up for the Cowboys until they play the games. Will it be the one that has had some really good years at safety that led to awards, high grades and general praise? Or the guy who was traded mid-season and has bounced around to his fourth team now on low-end contracts?

The Cowboys have played this game in the past; signing veterans to low-end contracts and trying to coach ‘em back up to their glory years, or get the potential out of them that they hadn’t realized previously. It’s always a risky game, let’s hope they come up aces on this one.