Heading into the 2020 offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have several holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball. With Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Anthony Brown set to be free agents in the secondary, the Cowboys have some work to do to retool their defensive backfield for 2020. Unfortunately, the cornerback market isn’t very strong, but much like the defensive tackle group, the free agent safety class for 2020 is really deep.
While there will be options for the Cowboys in the first round of the NFL Draft at safety, they may be better off looking into the free agency pool to fill that hole, allowing them to simply draft the best player available.
1. Anthony Harris, Minnesota Vikings
The best safety available in the 2020 free agent class is Anthony Harris who played the last five seasons for the Minnesota Vikings. Harris was tied for first in the NFL in interceptions in 2019 and helped the Vikings to have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL.
Harris’ 54.7 passer rating against ranked 10th in the NFL in 2019 and 12th in the league in yards per coverage snap per Pro Football Focus. Among players with at least 563 snaps on defense, Harris tied for the fewest missed tackles in the NFL in 2019 and was second in the NFL in tackling efficiency (attempted tackles per miss). He was Pro Football Focus’ second highest-graded safety last season.
Coming off of a career year in which he tied for the league lead in interceptions, Harris is looking at a pretty nice payday this offseason, which likely prices him out of the Cowboys price range. However, the Cowboys may have an in with Harris. The Cowboys recently hired George Edwards to be a special defensive assistant coach. Edwards most recently served as the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator where Harris had his breakout the last two seasons.
2. Tre Boston, Carolina Panthers
Another year needing a safety and another offseason where Tre Boston will be a free agent. Through stints with the then-San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, and in 2019, the Carolina Panthers Tre Boston has remained one of the more underrated free safeties in the NFL. While Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, and Tyrann Mathieu were getting signed to long-term deals a year ago, Boston, yet again was forced to sign a one-year deal and play for a team that didn’t make the playoffs.
Over the last three seasons with three different teams, Tre Boston has recorded 11 interceptions, three in each of the last two seasons and five in 2017. He’s also averaged nine pass deflections over the last three years. In 2019, he was Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best coverage safety. He allowed a reception once every 77.4 coverage snaps, also fifth in the NFL among safeties per Pro Football Focus.
In past offseasons, the Dallas Cowboys haven’t shown much interest in him as they inaccurately labeled him “a box safety.” He’s a free safety that could help rotate the middle of the field with Xavier Woods.
3. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Chicago Bears
Player-coach connections don’t always lead to signings, but if the Cowboys wanted to go with another player known by the coaching staff Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could be an option for the Cowboys. Most recently with the Chicago Bears, Clinton-Dix was drafted by and spent the first four and a half seasons of his career with the Green Bay Packers and Mike McCarthy.
In the middle of the 2018 season when things weren’t going well for the Packers amidst a poor season for Green Bay, Clinton-Dix was sent to the Redskins for a fourth-round pick. With the Redskins, he started all nine games at strong safety and made an impact. At the time they traded for him, Washington was still in first place in the NFC East before Alex Smith was lost for the year and the team struggled down the stretch.
Clinton-Dix was then signed to a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears where he was an impact player for them in 2019. Starting all 16 games, he registered two interceptions, one for a touchdown, five passes defended, and a forced fumble.
In 2019, Clinton-Dix allowed a passer rating of 69.2 per Pro Football Focus, which was good for 16th in the NFL among players who played at least 345 coverage snaps. He was 19th in tackling efficiency, and the 19th ranked safety per Pro Football Focus’ player grades.
One of the best things about Clinton-Dix is he’s never missed a game and he hasn’t had fewer than two interceptions in a season since his rookie year when he played all 16 games, but only started 10 of them.
Clinton-Dix has the versatility to play in the box or as the deep free safety if the Cowboys wanted to mix and match him with Xavier Woods. Having two versatile safeties would be the best idea for the Cowboys moving forward as Woods can play man-to-man, is effective enough in the box to help in run support and play in the deep middle of the field. Having two guys that can do that makes it more difficult on opposing offenses to get a read on what the defense is trying to do presnap.
A reunion with his former head coach, Mike McCarthy could provide the Dallas Cowboys defense another playmaker in the secondary.
4. Eric Berry, FA
I know it’s popular to link name free agents with the Dallas Cowboys, so I don’t mean to throw this name out there just because, but I think he’s an interesting name the Cowboys front office should look into.
If you recall, the Cowboys had Eric Berry in for a workout and a physical last offseason and after that meeting felt comfortable looking in another direction. What happened, is they drafted a safety, but primarily relied upon Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods for all of their safety needs in 2019. Sometimes that worked out and other times it didn’t.
Well, now it appears that Eric Berry, having taken the year off, is healthy and ready to roll for 2020. Health has been the biggest issue for the former All-Pro safety of the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s what has kept him from locking down a job though he’s been a free agent for the last two offseasons.
If the Cowboys aren’t looking to spend big on a safety like Anthony Harris or still don’t feel like Tre Boston is a fit, then they really should look at Eric Berry. Though he may not be the player he once was, he’s a playmaker. He’s got that instinct for the football that is an innate trait and can’t really be learned. Signing Berry wouldn’t preclude the Cowboys from spending a premium pick on a safety if one the team likes is available to them in the first, second, or third round. On top of that, a veteran presence like Berry could help a rookie like Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, or Ashtyn Davis with their transition to the NFL game. Berry would allow the Cowboys to have a veteran player available to them if the rookie wasn’t ready to step in and start week one of the season.
5. Von Bell, New Orleans Saints
The Dallas Cowboys should be very familiar with Von Bell if they were to make an approach this offseason for the box safeties services. Mike Nolan, the Dallas Cowboys new defensive coordinator coached the linebackers with Von Bell’s New Orleans Saints in 2019.
Bringing Bell in would keep Xavier Woods as the true free safety and the Cowboys would be able to take a “free” and “strong” approach at safety.
Von Bell ranked fourth in the NFL in 2019 with three sacks and was ninth in the NFL among safeties in total pressures. One area that you’d like Bell to be better if you’re going to play him in the box safety role is in tackling efficiency. Per Pro Football Focus, Bell was 22nd in the league in 2019
Bell doesn’t have a lot of versatility but would be a solid option for the Dallas Cowboys to pursue.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Like the Dallas Cowboys will have at defensive tackle, they’ll have plenty of options available to them at safety if they choose to go that route. There will be a variety of styles of players each with varying costs. If they want to spend big, they can go the Anthony Harris route. If they want to take a flyer on an inexpensive veteran, Eric Berry or Tre Boston may be the best options. If they’re looking for someone with a lot of versatility, then Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the guy. If they want a true box safety, then Von Bell might be the option that makes the most sense.
Though Grant Delpit and Xavier McKinney are the hot names for the Dallas Cowboys at 17 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, we’ve seen this team attempt to fill needs with free agents to allow them to stay true to their draft board when the time comes for them to pick. Much like defensive tackle, the safety position sets up perfectly for the Cowboys to address and upgrade the safety position for 2020.
Free agency won’t begin for another seven weeks, but it’s already shaping up to be a really nice spending period for the Dallas Cowboys.