Earlier this week, former Green Bay Packers Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins made some news when he tweeted the following:
Nickdapick36 is ready for action. Who’s looking for a top-notch free safety. This kid is ready to dominate #2014
For those unaware of Collins’ background, he was one of the best safeties in the game of football from 2008-2010 making three straight Pro-Bowls, picking off 17 passes and returning three for touchdowns while averaging 60 tackles per year. In two of those three years, the Collins-led secondary of the Green Bay Packers finished in the top five in passing yards allowed. He also helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV, returning an interception for a touchdown, ironically in Cowboys Stadium.
In 2011, in just the second game of the season, Collins year and career came to an abrupt end when he was carted off the field in a stretcher after sustaining a neck injury while attempting a tackle that forced him to have a cervical fusion surgery to repaired a herniated disk. The Packers believed that his career in football was over and released him in 2012. That game in 2011 was the last time Collins played football.
You may be asking yourself… What does this have to do with the Dallas Cowboys?
Well, nothing… yet… but maybe it should.
The sad truth in Dallas is that since Darren Woodson decided to retire in 2003, the Cowboys have had some truly pathetic play at the safety position. Yes, we had Roy Williams who made some Pro-Bowls but he was mostly hype and reputation. He was a fierce hitter, until he all of a sudden became unwilling to hit and was mediocre at best in coverage, often making the highlight reel for the other team on long passing strikes, usually for a touchdown. Barry Church had a relatively good year last year, especially given that he was coming off of an Achilles tendon tear but who really thinks he is a consistent Pro-Bowl caliber player? The rest – Keith Davis, Lynn Scott, Abram Elam, Pat Watkins, Ken Hamlin, Gerald Sensabaugh, Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath – represent less of a “who’s who” and more of a “who’s that?”
Dallas routinely passes up on taking safeties in the draft, even when it’s an obvious need and there is amazing talent available to fill the void (see Eric Reid in 2013, Mark Barron in 2012, Kam Chancellor in 2010, Eric Weddle and Dashon Goldson in 2007, and Collins in 2005). So, while all the pundits are earmarking Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to be drafted by Dallas this year, it is more likely they either take a lineman or do their almost annual trade down and miss out altogether.
So why roll the dice on a 31-year old who hasn’t played in two seasons and could be one hit away from never playing again?
Because the Cowboys have put themselves in a position of need and despair. Factor in these truths…
1. Church is the only NFL caliber safety on this roster and in reality, he’d be best served by being in the strong safety spot, playing more in the box and less in coverage.
2. Even though Collins is 31, he’s only played six seasons so it’s a young 31 and in regard to his neck injury, the doctor that performed the surgery has stated he is 100% healthy and oh by the way, everyone is just one hit away from being done for good (see Manning, Peyton).
3. Bringing in Collins with a veteran minimum ($730,000), incentive-laden contract would be the exact type of fiscally responsible move the Cowboys need to start making. “Better” free agent options such as Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward are going to command way more money that Dallas does not have to give.
4. This draft is weak in regards to depth at the safety position so if/when the Cowboys pass on Clinton-Dix, there isn’t a lot of other help to be had.
All in all, Dallas will likely not make such a move as to kick the tires on a former Pro-Bowler just looking for a chance. If history and this regime have taught us anything, it’s more likely that the Cowboys will pin their hopes on the always injured Matt Johnson, pray that J.J. Wilcox develops or draft yet another small college also-ran in the middle of the draft that at best will be a marginal special teams contributor. Don’t be shocked if someone does give Collins an opportunity though. I won’t be if he makes the best of it.