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Cowboys free agent focus: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s playmaking potential makes Cowboys defense better

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The Cowboys are finally making moves to better a secondary that lacks ball-skills.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

[We have previously been profiling potential fits for the Cowboys but now free agency is here, and things are moving. Let’s start profiling the free agent acquisitions made by the Dallas Cowboys to see where they stand in their roster-building.]

This past week, the Cowboys agreed to terms with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the former Packers, and most recently, Bears safety. We profiled Ha Ha Clinton-Dix back in January as a potential fit because of his familiarity with new Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy:

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is no stranger to those that follow the Cowboys, he was a potential draft target in the 2014 NFL Draft but he wound up with the Packers. Clinton-Dix spent five seasons in Green Bay, starting 65 of 71 total games played. He recorded 275 solo tackles, had 25 PBU’s, and 14 interceptions during his stint with the Packers. In 2016, his work as the Packers’ free safety earned him Second-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.

In week seven of 2018, the Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Washington Redskins in exchange for a 2019 fourth-round pick. In his first seven starts at free safety, Clinton-Dix had 27 tackles and three interceptions. He started nine games for Washington as a strong safety, recording 66 tackles and a forced fumble. This past offseason, Clinton-Dix signed a one-year, $3.5M deal with his former rival, the Chicago Bears. He started all 16 games, recorded 78 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and scored a defensive touchdown.“

The Cowboys lost Jeff Heath to the Las Vegas Raiders but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a far better option to start opposite Xavier Woods. This move to get Clinton-Dix is not as celebrated as it would have been if the Cowboys had snagged Earl Thomas last year, but it certainly is worth being excited over.

First and foremost, the Cowboys were able to sign Clinton-Dix on a one-year, $4M deal, with just $2.5M guaranteed. That’s a bargain for the potential Clinton-Dix could bring to the Cowboys defense. Secondly, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix just might be able to help fix a Cowboys secondary that lacks ball skills. Let’s compare Clinton-Dix’s last three seasons to the three players that started at safety for the Cowboys:

2017 - 2019 GAMES TCKL TFL SCK PBU INT FF
HA HA CLINTON-DIX 48 250 3 1 17 8 2
JEFF HEATH 44 219 11 0 17 4 3
XAVIER WOODS 45 175 2 0 17 5 3
BYRON JONES (2017) 16 82 4 0 5 1 1

For all the initial concerns about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s tackling ability, it doesn’t show up so poorly in the stat sheet. At the very least, he hasn’t been any worse than the three Cowboys he’s compared to above. The one area that stands out the most in favor of the new Cowboy is the ratio of pass breakups to interceptions. All of the guys on this list get their hands on a few, but clearly one makes the most of his opportunities. The Cowboys have been among the worst defenses in takeaways for some time and it’s partly explained by the style of defense Rod Marinelli deploys, designed to not give up too many big plays. Under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the focus is heavily placed upon those defenders that can attack the football and come away with the football.

In the past three years, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix averages 0.2 interceptions per game over 48 games, that’s double the averages of Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, and Byron Jones. Clinton-Dix has only played in four more games than Heath and three more than Woods. The Cowboys should feel pretty good about the trajectory of Xavier Woods’ career through his first three seasons, he was a sixth-round pick from LA Tech after all. However, the issue was that the tandem of Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods just didn’t complement each other. By pairing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with Xavier Woods, the Cowboys have a chance to have two safeties that can cover well and make plays on the ball.

This is a short-term move for the now, at a time where the Cowboys need some veterans on a defense looking at significant turnover, and a new coaching staff. The moves at safety may not be over with either as this year’s draft class has a few names such as Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, and Antoine Winfield Jr. among the top prospects. Simply put, a move to get Ha Ha Clinton-Dix just made the Cowboys defense much better and it’s looking like defense will remain a heavy focus this offseason.