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Cowboys Defense: Bigger Need at Safety or Defensive End?

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Defense: Bigger Need at Safety or Defensive End

The 2018 NFL Draft from Dallas is coming up quickly, on a league calendar that has not yet officially entered the new year. This hasn't stopped many teams from turning these last few weeks into opportunities for improvement, with trades, releases, and free agent agreements all taking place.

As expected, the Dallas Cowboys have been quiet. For better or worse, it feels safe to say they'll remain relatively quiet through free agency - relying once again on this year's draft haul to contribute right away.

With ten total picks in this draft, the Cowboys are in a great position to improve the overall depth of their team. Primarily in need of starters on defense, the Cowboys could look to upgrade their pass rush or add another starting-caliber safety early in this draft.

Having recently covered a DE prospect that would make sense for the Cowboys in Harold Landry, let's compare this need to their others in a developing secondary.

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Ends

Cowboys Planning

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Current players under contract: Taco Charlton, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Charles  Tapper

Thanks to DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys sustained a pass rush for the first time in a long time this season. Setting the tone up front at the LDE position, Lawrence was a dominant pass rusher with the help of Maliek Collins and David Irving inside.

Lawrence's dominance and ensuing franchise tag that's been placed on him for 2018 may have one downside though. Taco Charlton -- the Cowboys first round pick of 2017 -- is best at this same left end position, as he was in college.

With Tank and Taco rushing off of the strong side, and Benson Mayowa already released by the team, the Cowboys should still be in the market for their next great RDE. The days of relying on Randy Gregory to ever become this player are unfortunately over in Dallas, although he is eligible to apply for reinstatement.

Stopping here with their overall commitment to getting better in the trenches on both sides of the ball would not be smart for the Cowboys, and adding another talented pass rusher to join this solid group could have huge implications for this defense.

Dallas Cowboys Safeties

Cowboys Need Depth of 2017 Draft to Shine in 2018 1

Dallas Cowboys S Xavier Woods

Current players under contract: Jameill Showers, Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier

Byron Jones' move from S to CB this offseason is a positive one, as it allows one of the most athletic defenders in the entire NFL to play his ideal position. His absence could be felt at safety given the Cowboys' current depth here, with plenty of potential for Kris Richard to work with but little experience.

With Jones, Jourdan Lewis, and Chidobe Awuzie expected to start at CB, the Cowboys should feel great about their ability to cover on the back end. Helping these cornerbacks with adequate safety play needs to be prioritized, as Jeff Heath should remain a rotational player.

Rookie Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier both flashes at times in various safety roles this season, and both have the ability to play down in the box. This means that the Cowboys need at safety remains a deeper play maker, a role Jones was never able to fit.

Similarly to their situation at DE, the acquisition of another safety could help the Cowboys get the most out of the players listed above - all of whom showing enough promise/consistency to earn snaps next season.

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Although free agency is far from the Dallas Cowboys' preferred method of roster building, their approach in these coming weeks before the draft could tell Cowboys Nation a lot about their outlook on defense.

This defense is incredibly close to coming out of the shadows of the Cowboys offense, becoming a top unit as opposed to one responsible for "protecting the lead" and "not being the reason the Cowboys lose".

Both defensive end and safety are not particularly deep positions in this upcoming draft, only putting further pressure on the Cowboys' self-scouting to prepare for selecting 19th overall.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Defense: Bigger Need at Safety or Defensive End?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Chuck Wright

    March 11, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    ???? 1 tech is by far the biggest need/hole. Followed by S then LB. In fact drafting a top flight/make an impact day one 1 tech will make both LB and S instantly better. Not to mention the pass rushers.

    • Sean Martin

      Sean Martin

      March 11, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      I agree with their need at 1T, but they’re not going to draft that position in the first round. DE and SAF are viable options, however.

  2. winstar

    March 11, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Safety and more-so DE is down the list. I am of the opinion that LB is the priority even if we keep Hitch. That’s hard for me to admit as much as I want Vea or Payne. Tyron and Lee killed us last season with injuries. Dez and Prescott didn’t help along with Elliott’s suspension. I was proud of Morris and Smith but Elliott being gone got into Prescott’s head. The FO better get serious or we will be back here next year singing the same song. BTW, OG is a higher priority than S.

  3. EverybodyTalks

    March 11, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    To answer the question of DE or S ??? —- I’m going with Safety, especially with Byron going to CB. The DEs we have are a good rotation, w/o even considering the status of Randy Gregory. I agree with the comments on DT1 and that is where we could really strengthen the line. The good thing is DT1&3 are deep in this draft. The reason I say DT1&3 is because of the comment by Stephen Jones. He stated that they would consider a DT1, but only if that player also had DT3 attributes. So to me, that includes Vita and DaRon. Plus in other rounds, we could select other DT1&3s such as Nathan Shepherd, Poona Ford, Desmond Harrison, to name just a few.

  4. David L Lamon

    March 30, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    Better a DE if available. Without an excellent pass rush it puts too much pressure on the DB’s. Their lineback corps is not very good either and with Smith they still don’t know what they are going to get. His coverage skills suck buttermilk and he over pursues too much. This is in part due to his lack of confidence in his own playing ability and inexperience.

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Star Blog

Could Loaded FA Safety Market Drive Down Earl Thomas’ Value?

Brian Martin

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Could Loaded FA Safety Class Drive Down Earl Thomas' Price Tag?

It's no secret the Dallas Cowboys and Earl Thomas share a mutual interest in one another. Thomas has publicly stated his desire to join America's Team and the Cowboys did their darndest to make that happen last offseason. Nothing ever materialized a year ago, but it's looking as if the stars have finally aligned and a union between the two could merely be just weeks away.

Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys may have dodged a bullet last year when the Seattle Seahawks refused to part ways with their All-Pro safety. Not only would they have had to surrender a high draft pick, but they would've also had to extend Thomas' contract. Fortunately, timing is everything and now the Cowboys might just have to do the latter.

A potential contract between the Cowboys and Thomas is of course what I want to dive in today. I'm not going to get into numbers right now, because it's nearly impossible to project any kind of contract for any safety this offseason, especially for the former Seahawk, Earl Thomas.

Earl Thomas

Free Agent FS Earl Thomas (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Right now, it's a little difficult to know who might have the advantage in contract negotiations, Earl Thomas or the Dallas Cowboys. A lot of times the one that has the leverage, however slight, is the one that gets the better of the deal. As surprising as it may be, the Cowboys might just have the advantage here and I'll tell you why.

First off, this year's market for free agent safeties is pretty stacked with starting caliber players. See below:

  • Earl Thomas
  • Landon Collins
  • Lamarcus Joyner
  • Tyrann Mathieu
  • Adrian Amos
  • Clayton Geathers
  • Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
  • Glover Quinn
  • Tre Boston
  • Kenny Vaccaro
  • George Iloka
  • Jimmie Ward
  • Adrian Phillips

Earl Thomas is obviously the headliner here amongst the free agent safeties, but having so many starting caliber players available could drive down Thomas' market value just a bit. This is especially true when you take into consideration the market for FA safeties just a year ago. It was almost a complete standstill last year, with only Kurt Coleman signing a three-year $16.5 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. Not even the "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu could get more than a one-year deal.

With all of these safeties available in free agency, we could be looking at another stingy market. This of course could be good or bad news for the Dallas Cowboys, especially as it pertains to Earl Thomas. Since he is the top FA safety available, everything could once again be at a standstill until he is signed.

Earl Thomas

Free Agent FS Earl Thomas (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Of course, we all know this will ultimately come down to determining Earl Thomas' market value. There is no denying he is still arguably the best free safety in the game today, but there are concerns about his age (30) and the two lower leg injuries he's sustained in the past three years.

Even with the loaded free agent market of starting caliber safeties and Thomas' age and recent injury history, he's still likely to receive a contract that earns him $10 million annually, give or take. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he gets another four-year deal worth $40 million, $25.7 million guaranteed, with a $9.5 million signing bonus like he signed with the Seahawks back in 2014.

The Cowboys of course would probably find a four-year $40 million deal for Earl Thomas acceptable. They would more than likely frontload the contract with a lot of protection in the details. They have the cap space to make this happen and still be able to sign their own, so money shouldn't be a problem.

Now, whether or not Thomas' market value may dip a little due to all of the above mentioned reasons will be something we will have to wait and find out. Regardless, I'd be a little shocked if Earl Thomas doesn't finish his career with the Dallas Cowboys.

Do you think Earl Thomas' market value will take a little hit this offseason?



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Star Blog

Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors

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Acquiring Brown Will Give Dallas Twin Turbo Terrors

What a difference a receiver makes, right? As Dallas fans, we know the impact of a player who can shake coverage, get open, and catch the ball. How was the season going before the Cowboys pulled the trigger for Amari Cooper in the deal with the Raiders? Cooper proved to be the lightning rod and a turning point in a season that was growing increasingly dismal. Dak Prescott and Cooper went together like peanut butter and jelly, while the Cowboys stormed to a division title and a postseason berth.

Now, imagine all of that times two… maybe even two and a half if Antonio Brown could be had from the Steelers. Scary right? We understand there’s only one ball to go around but that didn’t stop Kevin Durant from joining the Warriors, did it?

As of this writing, the best online sportsbooks like Intertops, are dealing Dallas as the seventh of 16 choices to win the NFC championship at odds of 12-1. Imagine how those odds would shrink if Brown wore a Cowboys uniform next season, giving Prescott the luxury of not one upper echelon wideout but that plus an elite receiver. Hut, hut, hut and a few clouds of smoke later the Cowboys would be moving the chains or celebrating in the endzone.

Brown and Cooper would be a devastating combination with Ezekiel Elliott coming out of the backfield. Brown was made for Dallas, it gives him an even grander stage than the one he shared with Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh.

Despite the fact that the 'Boys haven’t won a Super Bowl since Barry Switzer was roaming the sidelines in the mid-90s, America’s Team still resides in Dallas. But we need a game-changer and Brown is just such an athlete. But what do we give in return and will that cost be worth whatever productive years Brown has left after this one? Let’s not forget that the mercurial Miami native will be 31 when the season begins and men who make a living with their legs don’t get better at that age. But Brown is so good and so unique that, even if he drops half a click, he's still amongst the best in the game.

That level of talent is hard to replicate and it could be the missing piece which allows Dallas to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender next season and the year after.

However, up to this point, we’ve been very good at dreaming of a Brown to Dallas trade but haven’t quite worked out the details. It takes two to tango and if we expect to get the Steelers’ attention we need to give them something valuable in return. Dallas surrendered their first-round pick (27th) this season when they traded for Cooper so that’s no longer an asset.

Pittsburgh would be vying for a first-round pick (and likely more) for Brown's services but some have speculated Dallas would consider dealing rookie-standout Leighton Vander Esch.

Wait... what? We know, you’re clutching your pearls, and the words are stuck in your gasp. We get it. The kid was a home run this past season, leading the Dallas defense in tackles and earning a Pro Bowl invitation in his inaugural NFL season. But this would be a Faustian deal.

The Cowboys give up a player who is poised to be a stud for years to come for a playmaker in Brown that could render a Super Bowl in the immediate future. Brown's expiration date will surely turn his milk sour sooner rather than later, but in the here and now, Antonio Brown could be the bell cow who leads the Cowboys to the promised land before he’s put out to pasture.

Just something to think about...



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Star Blog

2018 In Review: CB Anthony Brown Bounces Back

Kevin Brady

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Anthony Brown's Resurgence A Great Sign for Cowboys Defense
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

To say it's been an up-and-down start to the career of young cornerback Anthony Brown would be an understatement.

As a sixth round pick in 2016, everything Brown contributed during his rookie season was a plus. Due to injury he was asked to step into a greater role as the season went on, and he performed well enough to make the front office comfortable allowing multiple veterans to walk for nothing in free agency the following Spring. Brown looked like a legitimate starting cornerback in the league, and when Dallas brought in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis during the next draft, the young secondary seemed set.

Then 2017 happened. And Anthony Brown struggled. Really struggled.

These struggles, coupled with the emergence of both Lewis and Awuzie during their own rookie seasons, made Brown's status heading into 2018 rather uncertain. Some wondered if they would trade him for a day three pick, others thought Brown could even end up being cut. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were slated to compete for the nickel cornerback job in training camp, and as it turned out, all Brown needed was that one extra chance to compete.

Brown won the job outright during the preseason, and began 2018 as the starting nickel. A fan favorite, most thought Lewis would reclaim his rightful spot on the depth chart sooner or later, but Anthony Brown's play (and Kris Richard's preferences) kept Lewis on the bench for much of the season.

Simply put, Anthony Brown balled in 2018, and was the Cowboys' second best corner for most of the year. By the end of the season Chidobe Awuzie had regained form, but Brown and Byron Jones were the most consistently reliable corners on the roster all of 2018.

Brown tallied 44 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception in 2018, and finished third on the team in pass breakups with 8. As the slot corner Brown had an excellent season, especially for a former sixth round pick.

Now he enters a contract year, and with the Cowboys having so many guys to pay over the next two offseasons, he could find himself as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. And if he can keep up his play from last year moving forward, he could be in for a nice payday that Spring.



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