It has been a vastly different free agency period for the Dallas Cowboys. There’s the worldwide pandemic and its effects, of course, but just in purely football terms, it has been anything but the normal way of doing things in Dallas. The surprise retirement of Travis Frederick was a big shock. Some compared it to the way Jason Witten left the Cowboys via temporary retirement, but Frederick’s announcement gave the team plenty of time to prepare for the draft, unlike Witten’s stunner. There are also indications that the team had advance warning - like the re-signing of Joe Looney. But the difference goes well beyond that, as the Cowboys were anything but idle the first week of free agency. For those who haven’t noticed, they usually sit things out for the first wave of signings. This year, they acquired three outside free agents in the first few days, including former Chicago Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He is very well known to new Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy, having been drafted and then playing for him with the Green Bay Packers.
As it turns out, the Bears also acquired a free agent from Dallas, defensive end Robert Quinn. Erik Duerrwaechter of the SBN Bears site Windy City Gridiron reached out to me, and we exchanged views on the two players. Here are the questions I asked about Clinton-Dix and his answers to help you get a better feel for the player.
Can you characterize what kind of safety Clinton-Dix is? Does he have a specific role, like as a free safety/centerfielder, or is he more flexible?
Clinton-Dix is definitely more of a true free safety. A center-fielder, if you will. Where we did see (defensive coordinator) Chuck Pagano drop him into the box on rare occasions, it was noticeable the amount of times he’d drop deep instead of being anywhere remotely close to the defensive front. His athleticism and raw speed are best used when he’s focused entirely on coverage. He provides some flexibility, but not much.
He has developed a bit of a reputation as a poor tackler, taking bad angles. Is that an accurate perception?
No, not entirely at least. His angles could certainly be better from time to time. With that said I don’t think he’s as bad of a tackler as some have claimed. You’d just like to see a little more “pop” in his initial contact. For reference, go back to his career with the Packers, and take note of the seasons where he led the team in tackles. If your safety is the team leader in tackles then 1) you’ve got serious issues up front on defense and 2) your safety isn’t a bad tackler. Not in my opinion at least.
One thing the Cowboys have been sorely lacking is takeaways, particularly interceptions. He certainly has shown he can get them, but do you see that as more skill, scheme and coaching, or just luck?
In my experience, from watching on the couch to coaching on the field, interceptions are a result of “all the above.” Clinton-Dix has a true nose for the ball. He’ll constantly make plays in the secondary, and he’s more than capable of pulling the trigger on critical moments. With all that, you have to also keep in mind it’s impossible to generate interceptions without good coaching on defense, and especially without generating pressure. For example, the Bears had a huge dip in takeaways from 2018 to 2019, particularly because hardly anyone not named Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, or Nick Williams could generate any consistent pressure. If you can wreck havoc up front and make the QB jumpy, the luck of getting interceptions will increase dramatically.
Dallas got a very nice deal, with Clinton-Dix signing for one year at $4 million. If that was his price, why didn’t da Bears re-sign him, and is that reason for us to be concerned?
That low price came as a shock to me. My initial perception was he’d sign a long-term deal of at least 3-years somewhere outside of Chicago. As it stands, the Bears made a tremendous investment in fellow safety — and former Alabama teammate — Eddie Jackson, the two-time pro bowl selection and 2018 All-Pro. It would be impossible to reel in two long-term contracts at safety this offseason with Chicago so tight to the cap. It is believed the Bears want a more physical thumper to pair with E-Jax to provide their young stud a chance to return to what he does best, dropping deep into coverage. This has nothing to do with Clinton-Dix as a player, and I wouldn’t be worried about this. So long as you’re planning on using him as a true free safety.
So what kind of person and teammate is Haha? Is there any real risk of off-field issues?
Ha Ha is a great person in general. Give him a follow on Twitter, he’ll provide a golden nugget from time to time. To my knowledge, the last time he’s ever been in real trouble was in 2013 when he was suspended for violating team rules at Alabama. Also, following 2016 his career in Green Bay took a dive, when he and the majority of the locker room got fed up with the coaching staff and drama surrounding the locker room. I can’t blame him; moreover, he essentially carried an entire defense by himself in my own opinion. He’s definitely not afraid of speaking his mind, which I have great respect for. I will admit that seeing him re-unite with Mike McCarthey is a surprise given how disgruntled Clinton-Dix became in the land of cheese. Despite everything he’s a leader, great teammate, and a completely safe player off-field. You’re all going to enjoy him in Dallas.
Thanks for your insights, Erik. I just had to add that, given the issues with pass rushing that he discussed in answering the third question, both Dallas and Chicago may have won in this “exchange” of players.