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Trying to Make Sense of Cowboys Murky Safety Situation

For the last few weeks I’ve been doing a position-by-position breakdown of the Dallas Cowboys roster heading into 2020 training camp. I was planning to wrap that up on Saturday with the safeties, but then the Earl Thomas news threw everything into chaos.

Two days later and the situation is murkier than ever. Not only is Thomas now a free agent and the Cowboys being called a potential suitor, but a surprising shift has happened has happened with players already on Dallas roster.

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Cowboys signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in March to be their starting safety. Based on camp so far, that won’t be the case. Darian Thompson more impressive so far. This competition will continue to unfold. Clinton-Dix signed a one-year contract with $2.25M fully guaranteed.

Between his former draft status, a past Pro Bowl trip, and his relationship with Mike McCarthy from Green Bay, Clinton-Dix felt like a safe bet to be a starter in 2020. But his fall from 1st-round grace appears to be continuing if Thompson is even close to challenging for the job.

That’s not to say Darian is a scrub. He was a 3rd-round pick by the Giants in 2016 who quickly earned a starting job but then struggled with injuries. He eventually found his way to the Cowboys during the 2018 season as a reclamation project and appears to be doing just that.

Of course, neither will probably be a starter if Earl Thomas ends up coming to Dallas. We should see Thomas and Xavier Woods atop the depth chart at that point.

But you see why previewing this position right now would be a farce; it could all change by later this afternoon. Thomas now looms over everyone and until he is confirmed to either be with Dallas or one of the 30 other possibilities, forecasting anything about the Cowboys safeties right now is a fool’s errand.

Even assuming that Thomas and Woods would be the starting duo isn’t certain. Both are on the small side and Dallas might prefer a bigger player like Darian Thompson (6’2″ and 211 lbs.) to be in the mix for playing close to the line of scrimmage.

What we do know right now is that things are in definitely in flux, and unfortunately we’re left with more questions than answers.

Does Thompson challenging for a starting role mean he’s making step forward in his career, or is it more an indictment of where Clinton-Dix is at this point in a declining career?

Does Dallas’ new scheme under Mike Nolan allow for them to play two smaller, free-safety types like Earl Thomas and Xavier Woods together?  Or would Thomas’ arrival actually cut into Xavier’s playing time?

Are the Cowboys even that interested in Thomas after the last two years, or has his increased age and personal red flags finally moved him to the edges of their radar?

Some of those answers should come within the next day or two. We’ll wait for clarity and then see what Dallas actually has at safety when the dust settles.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!


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    • There’s been no indication that Wilson is competing for a starting job right now. This was just about the confusion with the current contenders up front, and of course Earl Thomas.

  1. I like what I saw of Thompson last year in his limited opportunities. If he out-plays Clinton-Dix in camp, I’m fine with him starting. But we’re still in the same boat … whoever we elect to go with, we need to give them a fair shot to secure a future here. Three of these guys are in contract years and we need to know something about them when this season is over, which is why many of us want to see Wilson get a fair shot. If Thompson gets that shot, I’m good with it. Just commit and go … even if it’s Thomas.

  2. Go Get Earl Thats It thats it we need a ball hawk some who can cover the field we havent had a good safety since darren woodson roy williams was ok couldnt cover well signed ken hamlin he couldnt cut it and list goes on we need a all pro safety had a chance to get earl price was to high now this out chance defense wins games corners looking good in camp just sign what we need

  3. Yea I’m surprised D Wilson wasn’t mentioned either. I was under the impression that he had the best chance of supplanting Woods, and D Thompson is rarely mentioned in that regard. Are u sure u didn’t get ur players mixed up Jess? Haven’t even heard of him as being a camp standout. I mean if that’s the case and the cowboys see him as the best candidate, they know best. Also if the cowboys do sign Thomas, that means the top 3 candidates for safety are all free safeties. Would like to hear how our best pure SS D Wilson is looking in camp.

    • The tweet that I tried to include in the article didn’t really work, but Darian is definitely the one who is standout out right now and pushing for a job. But again, that could have as much to do with what HHCD is not doing as anything Thompson is.

  4. Wait I just read back thru the article, so D Thompson is a candidate at FS over Dix? I thought he was a strong safety. Now I’m really confused.

    • Free and Strong don’t really mean what they used to; safeties are more interchangeable these days. And Thompson has the versatility to go either way, which is why Dallas has been intrigued by him the last two years.

  5. Earl is going to complain if they put him at SS. Better off putting X. Woods at SS and Earl at FS. HHCD should be a FS. I’m not a fan of playing guys out of position as much as Dallas has been trying to do for years. Some of these safeties are going to have to be special team standout to clear up the logjam. New coaching staff gives new hope of sensibility. The Garrett regime would definitely screw it up.

  6. Donovan was drafted having played slot and SS so why not give him a look at SS and see if he can handle it instead of pigeon holding him at the position the old staff moved him too. A SS who is a viable free would be an advantage I would think.

  7. I think D Wilson is looked at more as a SS with ball skills (ideal). If he is paired with D Thompson who seems to have the same skill set, u have two big physical safeties that can man ur back end for the next 2-3 yrs on their rookie contracts. Cowboys might want either Dix or Woods for more experience back there though. But i think Wilson/Thompson should get a fair chance at winning those jobs. I don’t think anyone is that impressed with Dix/Woods.

    • I believe Thompson is another 1-yr contract guy. He’s beyond his rookie contract as Dallas acquired him as a veteran. Wilson is the only one of the current crop of safeties who is signed beyond 2020. They can obviously re-sign Thompson to lock him up (if he proves worth it), but not for rookie money.

      • Thompson isn’t beyond his rookie contract, he just didn’t really have much of one (I guess you can say) I do to injuries!! He was drafted in 2016 which means his rookie contract would’ve just ended this year!! Which is what I think happened and that’s how he got the new contract with us

        • Thanks, is that how it works? We didn’t draft him so I suspected his drafted team cut him, making him a free-agent void of a contract back when we signed him (therefore being free of his rookie contract). At that time wouldn’t we have given him a new contract (which we have now done a 2nd time)?

          • It can go one of two ways. If a player is released from their rookie deal and clears waivers then that contract vanishes. They start fresh with a new deal with their new team, or perhaps a new deal with the same team if they were cut and put on the practice squad (e.g. Cedrick Wilson in 2019).

            If the cut player is claimed off waivers then his rookie contract stays intact with the next team. We saw this last week when Carolina claimed Jalen Jelks after Dallas released him. He’s under contract with them until 2022, now, just like if he’d stayed with the Cowboys.

  8. We’re both wrong (imagine that) D Thompson is indeed a veteran, but is signed thru 2022. I hope we start one or both of the youngsters… find out what we have as
    u say. Would like to see some new blood back there.

  9. The team quietly gave Thompson a 2yr deal this offseason . So obviously they like him and wanted another set of eyes to look at him.

  10. It remains to be seen how Safeties will be used in a Nolan led defense. Under Marinelli/Richard there was little differentiation between the FS and SS. Thomas is the obvious choice for a true in the box SS but his coverage skills are seriously lacking and doesn’t appear to have a nose for the ball that HHCD has displayed.
    As for ET……NO!
    His bad attitude and disrespect for coaches, teammates and the game in general are well documented. Let him disrupt some other team’s locker room.
    His talent and salary are not worth the headaches or the potential bad influence he could have on a young secondary.

  11. I think Thomas has always been considered more of a FS type (30 career ints.) Which is alot for a safety. But he can certainly lay the wood on a WR (especially for his size). That physicality and ball hawking ability has made him one of the top couple of Safeties in the league the last 10 yrs. If he was the E Thomas from 5 yrs ago maybe consider it but he is past his prime and not worth the the risk/reward IMHO. The ball is in Jerry J court. If he really wants him, he’ll find a way. Hopefully Stephen J is in his ear on this one.

  12. Yep we resigned Thompson to consecutive 2 yr contacts the 2nd starting this yr guess the cowboys patience appears to be paying off, as he is in line to possibly start this season.

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