The Dallas Cowboys seem content to let their recent draft picks make up the meat of new players on this roster, hardly getting past the “due diligence” point of free agency with big names who’ve signed elsewhere. Stephen Jones has reminded fans at duller points of the offseason that free agency is an ongoing process, as is the year-round nature of player acquisition.
The Cowboys could back up these statements by addressing a neglected position on the roster, as their current depth chart at safety has few long-term answers. Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates would give Dallas a player to build around here, currently holding out of the AFC champion’s OTAs with no intentions of playing on the franchise tag.
Given their history of both drafting and signing safeties, suggesting the Cowboys should make a move this late in the offseason for Bates feels like grasping at straws. It may not be grasping at straws for another team in the NFC East as the Eagles are potentially looking to make another aggressive move for the 25-year old safety.
As of now, the Cowboys will enter OTAs and training camp with Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, Donovan Wilson, and Israel Mukuamu at safety. If this group remains healthy, Dan Quinn will have good versatility at the position, though only Mukuamu’s contract extends past 2023. If the Cowboys were truly in win now mode, they could justify passing on the future at safety for more pressing needs, but could also do this by making an uncharacteristic move like this hypothetical trade.
Bates has started 63 games as a second-round pick out of Wake Forest since 2018. A career low in tackles and interceptions in 2021 may be part of the reason the Bengals need to see more from Bates before offering a long-term extension. Cincinnati has the benefit of a star quarterback still on his rookie contract, and are looking to maximize it by spending wisely on ascending players. Still, Bates’ skills as a true center fielder that covers ground effortlessly would be coveted by nearly every team if the Bengals entertain trading him.
What could the Cowboys have that the Bengals may be interested in trading for? They’ve already addressed their biggest need on the offensive line with former Cowboys tackle La’el Collins. While they could use more to protect Burrow, the Cowboys no longer have their offensive line as a position of strength to trade away from. Another former Cowboy Chidobe Awuzie is entering the second to last year of his deal with the Bengals, where they could also upgrade over Eli Apple at the other cornerback position.
If the Cowboys are comfortable with their short term solutions at safety, they could do the same at cornerback and trust Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis more in 2022. This would make players like Nahshon Wright, Kyron Brown, and CJ Goodwin throw in options to extend a deal to Cincinnati. Of course, the biggest thing the Bengals are likely pursuing is draft capital. If the Cowboys aren’t willing to spend a first-round pick on a safety they’d have on a cheap contract for multiple seasons, this asking price from the Bengals could be a deal breaker.
Free agent safety Marcus Williams set the market at safety this offseason when he jumped from the Saints to the Ravens. His five-year, $70 million deal is well ahead of any other safety contract signed this offseason. The Cowboys would have to significantly restructure their current cap situation to afford this type of contract for Bates.
When a team hasn’t been in the conference championship game in 26 seasons, it’s past time to look at all possible solutions. Safety is a position the Cowboys have fielded only average starters at for some time. Even with Dan Quinn working his magic as coordinator, the Cowboys gave up a lot of big plays last season, but are trying to maximize the time they have with Quinn developing this defense. Trading for Bates would instantly give them another cornerstone player in the secondary, one that could help maintain their streak of turnovers, and prove to fans that this season is truly about more than evaluating what the current roster has.