The Dallas Cowboys have one heck of a position battle going on this off-season between Barry Church and Brodney Pool for the starting strong safety spot. Church is an undrafted third-year pro signed by the Cowboys in 2010 while Pool is an eighth-year veteran still looking to find a true NFL home. Dallas needs strong safety play in 2012 to avoid another mediocre season, so this isn’t just another roster competition.
Pool was signed to a one-year, $1.2 million deal in March mainly due to his experience under current Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan while the two were with the Cleveland Browns in 2009. Similarly, Dallas signed Abram Elam to a one-year deal last off-season for the exact same reason and he wasn’t offered a deal to return this season.
That means Pool is on the hot seat this off-season because no NFL team pays a backup safety over $1 million per year. Now Pool has one year of experience in Ryan’s variable 3-4, Cover 2 scheme, but that doesn’t give him an advantage over Church, who possesses the same credentials.
If Pool doesn’t win this battle, he’s gone. You can take that to the bank, especially considering the Cowboys drafted another safety in Matt Johnson from Eastern Washington in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Dallas will likely carry four total safeties on the active roster this season, meaning one of the three previously mentioned players won’t make the cut. Gerald Sensabaugh is the starting free safety and he’s backed up by third-year undrafted pro Danny McCray, who also plays a lot on special teams.
It’s safe to say Johnson is safe because he’s a rookie, the Cowboys used a draft pick to land him and both Pool and Church are in the final (and for the former, the only) year of their contracts. So theoretically, the loser of the position battle will be looking for work in late August, if not sooner.
Church played in three games under Ryan last season, starting only one of them. During that span, he recorded 28 tackles. With the New York Jets last year, Pool played in 14 games, starting six, and recorded 36 tackles, half a sack, one interception and one pass defended.
A majority of Church’s stats came on special teams, where a majority of his playing time was spent in 2011. However, he fits the mold the Cowboys are looking to fill at the strong safety position and Pool really doesn’t.
Dallas has Sensabaugh locked up through 2016, so the free safety spot is locked down. However, the Cowboys are particular about who plays strong safety. According to sources close to the team, Ryan wants a hard-hitting, almost linebacker-hybrid-type player at the position, which is a perfect description of Church as a player.
Church has played nickel and dime linebacker for the Cowboys already, so he knows what’s expected of the starting strong safety and he wants it more. During Dallas’ mini-camp, Church has performed well, garnering praise from head coach Jason Garrett.
“Barry Church has been one of those guys who, ever since we signed him, really takes advantage of the opportunities he’s been given,” Garrett said.
Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson describes Pool as “athletic” and a player “with great ball skills.” However, his praise for Church suggests he’s leaning toward the youngster in this roster competition.
“When you watch him on tape, he just jumps out at you,” Henderson said. “You say, ‘Wow, we’ve got to find ways to play this guy more.’ He just shows up making plays – all the time, always around the ball. You look at that, you say you want to give him more opportunities.”
From the small amount of evidence we have to go by in mid-June, Church has a leg up in this position battle and he’s paid his dues. Pool is just hoping to find an NFL home while Church is fighting for and earning one. Dallas should reward the youngster, move on from the veteran and let the rookie learn for a year and then possibly re-visit the situation.