OTA’s are finally getting started this week which means that position battles and fights for roster spots are about to kick off.
Of course, the real battles won’t be decided until Training Camp opens up in late July and the team has a chance to evaluate the players while they play actual football.
For a few Cowboys veterans, however, the battles have already begun.
Last week, I discussed the ever fading chances for Darren McFadden to make this roster and have an impact in 2016. McFadden is going to have to compete with the 4th overall pick in this years draft, a new free agent addition who is clearly the better scheme fit, and now another 6th round pick who seems to have all the youth, athleticism, and breakaway speed which McFadden lacks.
Well, if you think it looks bleak for McFadden, consider the situation that free safety JJ Wilcox is now in.
In a season which featured a whole lot of darkness for the Dallas Cowboys, rookie defensive back Byron Jones shined through with some light. He showed versatility, playing at both safety and cornerback when needed, and playing well at both positions.
Jones especially excelled at free safety, however, and is expected to make a push for the starting job this summer, and to eventually be the week 1 starter at the position.
This puts Wilcox on the outside looking in.
On the other side, Barry Church has been all but cemented into the strong safety role in Dallas, at least until the team can find an adequate replacement.
The Cowboys re-signed free safety, special teams contributor, and fan favorite Jeff Heath to a 4 year $7.6 million deal this offseason, and then drafted Central Michigan’s Kavon Frazier in the sixth round.
With these moves comes more competition for Wilcox to face as he fights for any playing time he can find in 2016.
Starting 29 games over the last two seasons, fans have had to accept the bad that comes with Wilcox’s good. Having only played safety one year during his time at Georgia Southern, the Cowboys knew that a steep learning curve was ahead of Wilcox when he entered the league.
The infamous bad pursuit angles, poor coverage at times, and overall inconsistent play from Wilcox has all been apart of that learning experience. But, entering his fourth season, the time for learning is over, and the time for performing has come.
What will Wilcox have to overcome to guarantee himself a spot on this roster?
Well, we know that Byron Jones and Jeff Heath are going to be there, leaving just rookie 6th round pick Kavon Frazier to be competed with.
I have already broken down some of Frazier’s game during my “Draft Film Review” series, but to sum it up, I see potential in Frazier.
Frazier has NFL size as a rookie, and has the athleticism which could impress coaches that see an upside in him which they may think has passed Wilcox by.
But, Kavon Frazier will face a steep learning curve as well. He is still shaky in coverage at times, and tends to be overaggressive in the box, leaving receivers open downfield after he bites on the play action fake.
Similar to McFadden’s battle with Darius Jackson, the team may decide that Wilcox’s experience should win out over a sixth round pick with an athletic upside.
However, I think Frazier can contribute on Special Teams right away, and could very well turn into a contributor on defense in a year or two. The Cowboys may agree, and conclude that Frazier’s upside is higher than Wilcox’s perceived ceiling.
Who makes the team?
How about both? I think the Cowboys will keep Wilcox around to finish out the final year of his contract which expires at seasons-end. After that, who knows what Wilcox’s future holds, as it is hard for me to imagine him being re-signed by the Cowboys unless he shows dramatic improvement this season.
The team has already locked up Heath for four more years, and Byron Jones isn’t going anywhere. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for Wilcox on this roster after 2016.
But, I expect Wilcox to contribute on Special Teams this season, and to see some time on defense in different packages and to spell Jones or Church.
In my estimation, Frazier will make the 53 man roster as well, but will be designated to the practice squad for most of the season. But, after Wilcox is gone, Frazier very well may be asked to fill his role in 2017 and beyond.
What do you think?
Is JJ Wilcox worth the Cowboys time? Do you think it is fair to expect an improvement in his game after having only four years playing the safety position?
Let’s debate in the comment section.