A new Tuesday feature on the ESPN.com NFL blog network.
Should the Cowboys replace Ken Hamlin at safety?
It's hard to believe it has already come to this point with Hamlin, but it has. He played himself into a lucrative contract extension with a Pro Bowl season in '07. Now, he appears to be the only weak link on the Cowboys' defense. Quite simply, he doesn't make enough plays to warrant the money (six years, $38 million). And the Cowboys also have to make up their minds about Gerald Sensabaugh, a restricted free agent with a second-round tender. There are a lot of teams needing a safety (see the Eagles), but I think Jerry Jones will likely match an offer unless it's for ridiculous money. He's not going to let Sensabaugh join an NFC East rival.
I'm hearing that the Cowboys believe that safeties Nate Allen (South Florida) and Taylor Mays (USC) aren't that far apart in terms of talent. It seems like Allen has a lot more range from what I've seen, but starting a rookie at safety is a risky proposition. I think a better option might be Oshiomogho Atogwe of the St. Louis Rams. He's a restricted free agent who received the lowest-possible tender. The 29-year-old Atogwe is coming off a right shoulder injury, but he's been much more productive than Hamlin since '06 with 18 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles. Over that same period of time, Hamlin has nine interceptions and two forced fumbles.
When I talk to secondary coaches, they tell me that safety is the toughest position for a rookie to learn in the NFL. The Cowboys know what it's like to play without a reliable starting safety and it's not something they want to revisit. If you can't get a significant upgrade over Hamlin, you might be better off giving him one more season.