As the Cowboys 2012 season came to a close in Week 17 against the Redskins, there were multiple issues that contributed to another 8-8 finish and missing out on the playoffs. Some of the issues that were causing problems have at least been addressed (premium draft pick on the offensive line and a durable running back prospect) while others have really not been. Having written last week about offensive play calling, the second installment of this series will touch on the lack of experience and options the team has at the safety position.
For fans and followers of the team, it seems as if the Cowboys have been looking for quality safety play forever. Darren Woodson technically retired after the 2004 season, but really was finished at the end of the 2003 season due to injuries. The Cowboys drafted Roy Williams in the 2002 NFL Draft with the 8th overall selection. Williams played well during the majority of his tenure in Dallas. Williams had five consecutive appearances in the Pro Bowl (2003-2007), yet had trouble acclimating to Wade Phillips defensive scheme after Bill Parcells left town. After suffering through an injury plagued 2008 season, Williams asked for and was granted his release from the team in early 2009.
The team currently has plans to go into the 2013 campaign with basically the following players competing for spots on the active roster at the position:
Barry Church (returning from a torn Achilles suffered in Week 3 of 2012 season)
Matt Johnson (4th round selection in 2012 that was injured all summer and season long in 2012; has never taken an NFL snap)
J.J. Wilcox (rookie that was taken as a 3rd round selection in 2013 draft)
Danny McCray (basically just a special teams guy; can provide depth but is not skilled enough to play the position for lengthy periods)
Will Allen (the lone free agent signee to the position this offseason)
Jakar Hamilton (rookie free agent; will be fighting for one of the last roster spots or a place on the practice squad)
With other options available to the team once the free agency period began, the only player the team signed was Will Allen. Allen was brought in due to his ability to play special teams and to be a veteran that has played in the Tampa Bay defense (2004-2009). There were other safeties that could have been brought in a decent price due to the new CBA having wiped out the NFL’s middle class, but none of these options were ever seriously considered. Church is returning from an Achilles injury, and while he should be able to play, this type of injury is hard to ever “fully” recover from, and it takes up to two years to get the player back to his absolute best. Johnson (having missed all of last year) and Wilcox are rookies and have not taken any prior NFL snaps. While McCray showed last season that he can contribute in dime and quarter coverages, he is not someone the team can line up in the traditional two safety 4-3 defense. Players such as Jakar Hamilton, Micah Pellerin, and Jeff Heath will try and make the roster or practice squad as undrafted guys, but they will definitely have their work cut out for them.
While Cowboy fans will forever follow the career of Sharrif Floyd (DT) whom the team most noticeably passed over in the 2013 NFL Draft to move down lower in the first round, there are three other players to keep an eye out for as well. The team could have also had safeties Eric Reid (18th), Matt Elam (32nd), or Jonathan Cyprien (33rd) instead of big C/OG Travis Frederick that the team took at 31. Hopefully Frederick is that piece on the OL that is there for the next decade and has multiple Pro Bowl appearances. Otherwise, if one of the safeties has that type of career and Frederick does not, well the team missed on another opportunity to finally get a playmaker in the back end of the defense. There is a lot of inexperience currently in the Cowboys safety corp. Hopefully it does not end up being the “Achilles Heel” of the 2013 season.
Follow Craig Cortemeglia on Twitter at @ccortemegliaTLH