The list of iconic safeties who wore the Cowboys’ star is short. It begins with all time great Cliff Harris and ends with perhaps the most under-rated Cowboy Darren Woodson (who notably played linebacker at Arizona State). In 2002, the Cowboys spent the 8th overall pick to select Roy Williams. Williams showed flashes (does anyone remember that he knocked Emmitt Smith out of a game during Smith’s brief stint as a Cardinal?), but he was not Superman, as some projected he would be. And then there was Harris’ running buddy, fan favorite Charlie Waters, the greatest Dallas athlete to ever wear number 41 (kidding). In all of Dallas’ eight Super Bowl appearances and five victories, they had Harris, Waters, or Woodson on the roster. Harris and Waters were part of the two Super Bowl wins in the 1970’s, and Woodson was a critical piece of the 1990’s teams that won three in four years. Just because Dallas won with great safeties, does that mean they can’t have success without one?
If this was another position and your track record demonstrated that greatness at that position had a 1:1 correlation with advancing to the Super Bowl, would you hesitate to spend resources to fill that position? Consider the position of quarterback – Roger in the 1970s and Troy in the 1990s; defensive line – Bob Lily, Jethro Pugh, Randy White, Harvey Martin, Ed Jones, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, and about six others from the 90s; running back – Duane Thomas, Tony Dorsett, Emmitt; and wide receiver – Bob Hayes, Drew Pearson, and Michael Irvin. Currently, the Cowboys appear to be honoring their tradition by drafting Zeke 4th overall; trading for Amari Cooper; signing Demarcus Lawrence; and apparently about to ink Dak to a deal in the range of $30 million per year. Admittedly, though, safety does not have the panache of these positions – it can be faceless. But, does it matter?
Here is the recent history.
Last Ten Super Bowl Winners and their Starting Safety
- 2009 New Orleans Saints- Roman Harper (pro bowl), Darren Sharper (pro bowl, 1st team all-pro)
- 2010 Green Bay Packers- Nick Collins (pro bowl)
- 2011 New York Giants*
- 2012 Baltimore Ravens- Ed Reed (pro bowl)
- 2013 Seattle Seahawks- Kam Chancellor (pro bowl), Earl Thomas (pro bowl, 1st team all-pro)
- 2014 New England Patriots*
- 2015 Denver Broncos*2016 New England Patriots- Devin McCourty (pro bowl)
- 2017 Philadelphia Eagles- Malcolm Jenkins (pro bowl)
- 2018 New England Patriots*
*no pro bowler/all-pro safety
The Cowboys defense this year, aka the Hot Boys, should be strong, but the unit seems to have one weakness that the front office has demonstrated no urgency to address. The safeties. Jeff Heath, statistically speaking, is not a starting caliber safety, but he does hit hard and has shown a knack for showing up in clutch situations. Xavier Woods is young and has potential, but there is no question the position could be improved. It could have happened this offseason as the Cowboys had many chances to bring a new safety to the roster. When the Cowboys picked DT Trysten Hill with their second round pick, Nassir Adderly, Taylor Rapp, and Juan Thornhill were all on the board. During free agency, the Cowboys missed on Earl Thomas, and never made an attempt to sign former pro bowler Eric Berry. They did add two players, George Iloka through free agency, and Donovan Wilson, a sixth round pick, through the draft, but these names lack the punch of names like Thomas or Berry.
It may be purely vanity and short-sighted, but the defense would have felt complete if Earl Thomas was patrolling the secondary this year — a true ball hawk to match the wolf hunter LVE and the human missile Jaylon Smith. But, it is hard to say that addition is necessary for a deep playoff run. The 2015 Broncos defense, for example, did not have a pro bowl safety, but according to Pro Football Reference, they had the fourth best defense overall. Denver allowed the fewest average yards per play, rush yards per play, and net yards per play. They did all of that without an Earl Thomas-type, but they did have two pro bowl edge rushers (Demarcus Ware, Von Miller), and two pro bowl cornerbacks (Aqib Talib, Chris Harris). Last season, the Cowboys had the sixth best defense in the league with a pro bowl lineman (Demarcus Lawrence), linebacker (Leighton Vander Esch) and cornerback (Byron Jones).
It has become clear the Cowboys value the trenches but not center-field, and it is never a bad idea to stockpile either line. BUT . . . this unit still feels incomplete and I fear the missing piece is now running the secondary in Baltimore.