Not since Darren Woodson have the Dallas Cowboys had continuity (and great play) at the safety position. Over a 13 year career, all spent with America’s Team from 1992-2004, Woodson was a five time Pro Bowler, carving out a niche as probably the NFL’s hardest hitting safety during that span. Opposing receivers were wary of coming over the middle when Woodson was in the area.
The Cowboys have been looking for a guy to do that ever since.
And 2013 is no different. With questions at the position yet again, the Cowboy safeties – barring a quality signing by Owner Jerry Jones - might be another disappointment. A look at recent position history and it is not hard to see why it just may be. Their safeties have been a revolving door as of late.
Though Roy Williams – the 8th overall pick by the Cowboys in 2002 – showed promise early in his career as a complete player who could run, cover and hit, it didn’t last. For whatever reason, Williams gained weight and became out of shape. After beginning his career as a decent coverage safety (five interceptions in his rookie year), that dissolved pretty quickly. And although he would tally five interceptions again in 2006, he never produced the same as he did during his first couple seasons. He began to be repeatedly lost in coverage, and left as a free agent after 2008, going to the Cincinnati Bengals to play for old Cowboy defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. After two mediocre years that were mixed with injuries, he signed a one day contract and retired as a Cowboy earlier this year.
In 2009, it was Gerald Sensabaugh, a free agent pickup from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who joined Ken Hamlin to man center field for the Cowboys’ defense. In 2010, converted cornerback Alan Ball joined Sensabaugh. 2011 saw Abram Elam take Ball’s place, and last season it was Barry Church taking Elam’s place. Sensabaugh is now gone after being released in March, and he signed a one day contract to retire with the Cowboys earlier this month.
So going into this season, the Cowboys face more uncertainty on the back end of the defense, as Jones said last week, they’re “unproven”. Church is coming off of a torn Achilles that he suffered in Week 3 of last year, and the starting free safety will be former Pittsburgh Steeler Will Allen. Not to think about what impact Allen may or may not have, but the Cowboys’ recent track record of free agent safety pickups is not all that great. Hopefully Allen, coming from a great organization like the Steelers, can be productive and provide leadership.
Sensabaugh was almost always lost in coverage, Brodney Pool was picked up prior to last season from the New York Jets, but he came into training camp out of shape and was cut. Charlie Peprah, the former Green Bay Packer, was brought in last season and performed admirably, but wasn’t he re-signed.
Depth is also an issue. Though Danny McCray was re-signed after a solid 2012, he is the only safety backup with any pro experience, backing up Church. Rookie JJ Wilcox backs up Allen, and second year safety Matt Johnson, who missed all of his rookie year with an injury, is the second backup to Church. Jones seems to be very high on Johnson, but I wouldn’t put too much faith in a guy coming off a season long hamstring injury to produce anything substantial.
The Cowboys had a chance to draft Louisiana State Tiger safety Eric Reid with the 18th pick in the draft, and bypassing him to trade down could hurt the Cowboys going forward. He would have brought the long term stability that the Cowboys have been looking for since Woodson’s departure.
Charles Woodson is also on the market, and with no other teams heavily interested would probably come cheap to the Cowboys in a low risk, very high reward scenario. Why they wouldn’t go after a proven, Hall of Fame caliber veteran to shore up the position in the short term is beyond me. Especially with the core of this team in Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Demarcus Ware being into their 30s – and with the team having a “win now” mentality.
So hopefully one of the safeties on the current roster can stop the revolving door.