NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Dallas Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2015, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2016.
Under contract: Barry Church, Byron Jones, J.J. Wilcox
Free agents: Danny McCray, Jeff Heath (restricted)
A look back: Heath led the Cowboys with two interceptions. While that is good for Heath it was not good for the Cowboys that he led the team in picks and he did so with only two.
The best part of the group was the development of Jones. When the Cowboys drafted him in the first round it was initially to play cornerback with the idea he could move to safety. By the end of the season the Cowboys made their decision that Jones’ future is at safety with him starting there the final two games even though cornerback Morris Claiborne was hurt.
Jones was able to show the ability to be a centerfield-type safety, even if he did not record an interception. He also has the ability to play the slot or stick with tight ends.
Church was second on the Cowboys with 136 tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown, in 15 games. The Cowboys moved Church around more in 2015 and had him playing in the box as well. He did not record an interception and was a relatively good open field tackler.
Wilcox took a step back in 2015 after starting every game in 2014 and finishing with three interceptions. He was credited with 69 tackles, one tackle for loss, one pressure and one interception. He missed far too many tackles and took bad angles either in pursuit or coverage. He missed a tackle on Philadelphia’s game-winning touchdown in overtime and missed a chance at sure interception in the finale against the Washington Redskins.
Heath made it through the season but could not play defensive snaps down the stretch because of a shoulder injury. He is the Cowboys’ best special teamer and is a good reserve safety. McCray was brought back for his special teams’ play and was solid.
A look ahead: The Cowboys have to get more production from the group and by having Jones focus on one spot this offseason that should make him better in 2016. He has the athleticism, speed and length to be a disruptor in the back-third of the defense.
That also would allow Church to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Wilcox needs to rebound in 2016 or his roster spot could be in jeopardy. He has played safety for only four seasons after playing running back mostly in college but some of his mistakes were not because of inexperience. In short spaces McCray can be a good player, but he struggles in seeing the whole field.
Heath is a restricted free agent and should receive the one-year tender offer of close to $1.5 million.
A look out: Church and Wilcox are going into the final years of their contracts in 2016 as would Heath if he is back on the one-year deal. The Cowboys will have to find help just from a numbers’ perspective, like they have to do at cornerback.
Having Jones is a bonus, but the Cowboys have to find a ballhawking safety and there aren’t many of those around. Could that be Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, who some see as a corner? Possibly.
In the free agent market, a veteran like Eric Weddle would help but the Cowboys need to find a player to grow into the position. Eric Berry will not be available, so don’t waste breath on the Kansas City Chiefs star. If the Cowboys add a veteran then they could look to keep Jones at cornerback full time.