The Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will meet in the Super Bowl in a week and a half. Cowboys fans are familiar with a lot of the key players on either side. There are two in particular that have been mentioned in this space quite a bit over the last two draft cycles. Safeties Juan Thornhill of the Chiefs and Antoine Winfield of the Buccaneers.
If you have read this space much the last two offseasons you’ll recall that I, as were many in Cowboys draft circles, was a big proponent for Dallas selecting either player.
Both Winfield and Thornhill displayed playmaking ability from the deep safety position as well as an ability and willingness to come up and help in run support. Though Donovan Wilson has emerged as a playmaker for the Cowboys, his coverage ability is still a bit lacking and that’s where Winfield or Thornhill would have made excellent compliments.
Now, they’re heading to the Super Bowl, which will be Thornhill’s second, with an opportunity to win a second ring in as many seasons in the NFL. While Winfield didn’t play in the NFC Championship win over the Green Bay Packers, his presence has helped take the Bucs defense to another level this year.
So what does that say about the Cowboys valuation of the safety position?
In a word, wrong.
For years, the Cowboys have tried to get by with late round draft picks or middling free agent signings to help them at the back end of their secondary. In 2020, they tried to find an upgrade at the position, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix couldn’t make it out training camp.
Still a mystery.
The Cowboys have failed to properly invest in a position that is proving to be an important aspect of any defense. Next to Thornhill, the Chiefs deploy Tyrann Mathieu as well. Two dynamic playmakers at safety that can hurt you in multiple ways.
Though the Cowboys likely made a good decision in taking Trevon Diggs over Winfield, the lack of interest in a deep 2020 safety class in the third or fourth round reinforces a disturbing trend in the Cowboys front office. They simply don’t think safety is worth the investment. And again, the NFL is showing them they’re wrong.
When they selected Trysten Hill they could have had Juan Thornhill or even Taylor Rapp, but opted for a project defensive tackle with a spotty relationship history with his coaching staff in college.
The Cowboys have had opportunities to upgrade that position for several years now but instead took the cheap approach in Xavier Woods and Donovan Wilson (sixth round picks) and Darian Thompson and Clinton-Dix (inexpensive free agents).
Even as many in the fan base plead for them to go after a guy like Tre Boston, the front office argued that he and his interceptions weren’t a scheme fit.
They just didn’t want to work to improve the situation because they don’t think safety is important. Which is a weird stance to take considering the safety play they’ve received throughout the franchise’s history. From Charlie Waters to George Teague and Darren Woodson, this team has found a lot of success investing in the safety position.
Hopefully, the presence of Juan Thornhill and Antoine Winfield Jr. in this year’s Super Bowl will help change their thought process on the position as a whole. Though, after following this team for so long, I don’t find that very likely. As I prepare to dig into the 2021 safety class, I’m ready for the hurt that the Cowboys will inflict upon me by passing on my favorite safety project. Yet again.