IRVING, Texas -- After the draft, I wrote a post assessing the needs of the Dallas Cowboys’ after the draft.
At the time, I mentioned interior offensive line and safety help. The Cowboys then went out and signed La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent to add to the line and added veteran Danny McCray to shore up the secondary.
Football Outsiders offered up the biggest weak spots for all of the NFC East teams on Monday and had safety -- over running back -- at the top of the list for the Cowboys.
He called J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church the “eminently mediocre duo.”
Here is part of what he wrote:
"Safeties are hard to analyze statistically because their assignments can vary wildly from team to team. By and large, though, we can say they are asked to prevent opposing offenses from making big plays, and the Cowboys' pair didn't offer much help there, especially in the running game. Church was 25th among safeties in run stops (tackles that stopped an offense from gaining 45 percent of yards to go on first down, 60 percent on second, and 100 percent on third or fourth); Wilcox was 61st. That would be fine if their conservative play was taking away home runs, but Dallas gave up 1.03 open-field yards per carry last year, third-worst in the league. (Open-field yards are rushing yards gained at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.) The Cowboys also struggled to stop deep passes, ranking 20th in pass coverage on throws that traveled at least 16 yards past the line of scrimmage."
In a perfect world, the Cowboys would have done something differently at safety, but it’s impossible to cover it all in one offseason. They felt addressing the defensive line with Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory would serve them better than looking at safety help via free agency or the draft. The idea being that a pass rush makes a secondary better.
The Cowboys were not going to get into the financial game for a Devin McCourty. The rest of the free-agent class was hardly a major upgrade (or any upgrade) over Wilcox and McCourty.
The Cowboys had some interest in drafting a safety, like Arizona State’s Damarious Randall, but just as they could not make the round and player fit in selecting a running back, they couldn’t make it work at safety as well.
Byron Jones, however, could make this question moot.
When the Cowboys picked him in the first round, they talked about his ability to be the centerfield safety they have lacked over the last too-many-years-to-count. He played safety for two years at Connecticut before moving to cornerback for his final two seasons.
McCourty offers the Cowboys a blueprint for success with moving from cornerback to safety. Stephen Jones mentioned McCourty specifically after the first day of the draft.
The Cowboys have to find a way to get Jones on the field. They want to keep Brandon Carr but not with him counting $12.7 million against the cap. If the Cowboys have Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne and Corey White as their top four cornerbacks, then having Jones spend some time at free safety makes sense.
But will Claiborne be healthy enough to contribute more than he did his first three seasons? Was White’s down year last year with the New Orleans Saints more than just a one-time thing? If so, then the Cowboys need Jones at cornerback.
There have been cries for the Cowboys to find an Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu or Earl Thomas type at safety for years. It sounds great, but Reed and Polamalu are generational players and Thomas could be on his way to becoming one in Seattle.
Teams have gotten by defensively with less than what the Cowboys have at safety ... and they've won a lot of games.