Despite the feeling in some mock drafts that the Dallas Cowboys would address their free safety position in the first round, the draft came and went last weekend with no serious additions at the spot. Not until the seventh round and the 248th pick did Dallas draft a safety at all, strong safety Ahmad Dixon out of Baylor, to back up Barry Church.
When pick No. 16 came up, Calvin Pryor, Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and Jimmie Ward were all still on the board. Drafting one of them — any of them — would have made perfect sense and likely generated reviews as positive as those of the Zack Martin selection.
There was a lot of surprise out there as America wondered how the team could afford not to immediately address its historically bad defense.
The answer, as Stephen Jones put it yesterday, may lie in the team’s evaluation of its current guys. Dallas liked Ward, but only as a second-round option. After that, Jones said on the team’s official site, the team “felt like we were getting a lot of what we had.”
What do the Cowboys have? It’s difficult to say for sure. Matt Johnson could be the answer the team has been waiting for, but Dallas will never find out if he can’t make it through a season healthy. The Eastern Washington product spent his first two campaigns on IR.
Then there’s J.J. Wilcox, the player Dallas expected would start before he spent the season dealing with his mother’s death and battling injuries. His play improved down the stretch as he began to wrest playing time away from Jeff Heath.
Ah, Jeff Heath. He started nine games last year, racked up 60 tackles and even picked off Kirk Cousins one time. It doesn’t seem, however, that the franchise (or the fan base) is in love with the guy. The Cowboys would like nothing more than to find him a cozy seat on the bench.
And . . . that’s pretty much it. Jakar Hamilton could see some preseason reps, and Dixon might even get a shot at free safety, but no one can say now who will start next to Church on opening day in Arlington.
If the team feels good about its safety situation, that means it has faith in Matt Johnson and J.J. Wilcox to a) stay healthy and b) produce. I’m not about to dismiss the talent and potential these guys have, but I don’t think that’s a very smart bet.
Dallas’s hands were more or less tied, however, by their draft board and a chain of events they had no control over. Zack Martin was the best player, so they took him. The 49ers liked Jimmie Ward, so they took him. The Cowboys needed a defensive lineman, so they took one. After the second round, how much of an impact could a free safety really have?
It would be hard for the Dallas defense to get worse in 2014, and with another year of experience to draw on, don’t expect a repeat performance from Dallas’s free safety corps this year. They probably won’t play like Calvin Pryor, but if they can play like NFL-caliber safeties, that will be good enough.
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