Cowboys’ Safety Xavier Woods has accomplished more than most 6th-round picks, starting three whole seasons before the end of his rookie contract. But with free agency coming in 2021, Woods just had his worst season and his future with the team is in doubt. As our Position Preview series continues, we’ll see how Dallas’ decision on Xavier Woods will affect everything they do at safety this offseason.
One half of the starting safety tandem appears set with Donovan Wilson, who broke out in 2020 as a playmaker. This was Woods’ reputation after the 2018 season but he’s regressed the last two years, replacing big hits and turnovers with coverage breakdowns and costly penalties.
Time will tell if Wilson can keep up his momentum better than Woods did. But at the very least, it’s one starting position that the Cowboys don’t need to worry about in what stands to be a busy offseason.
2021 Safety Contract Statuses
U = Unrestricted, R = Restricted, E = Exclusive Rights
Like many on Dallas’ defense in 2020, Woods’ sharp decline came with scheme changes under one-year blunder Mike Nolan. Now that the Cowboys have replaced Nolan with Dan Quinn, they may want to see how Woods performs in a scheme that has allowed safeties like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Keanu Neal to become household names.
But giving Xavier a second chance would necessitate a second contract. Rather than gamble on Woods, Dallas may be ready to sign a veteran who can bring some stability to a long-running problem position.
To be fair, running with Donovan Wilson as one starter is already risky. He had the big plays in 2020 but wasn’t a standout in general coverage. Now opponents will have more tape on Wilson and be better able to exploit his weaknesses.
Given this, the Cowboys could be motivated to find a more reliable asset for the other safety position. That would definitely mean going outside the family this offseason,
The Cowboys have tried to get something out of veteran Darian Thompson the last few years but he’s proven to be nothing more than a backup. And with $1.2 million to be gain from cutting Thompson this offseason, Dallas may take the cap space over the player at this point.
That would leave the cupboard very bare with journeyman Steven Parker and the rarely-seen Reggie Robinson. While we all want to see what Robinson can do after being a 4th-round pick last year, expecting him to start in 2021 would be too great a leap.
Dallas tried to upgrade the safety position via free agency last year when they signed veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But the reasons that Ha Ha was on the market, and why the Cowboys signed him on the cheap, eventually led to him not even making it past final cuts.
There’s also been talk of re-signing cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis to give them a look at safety. But again, this would be a gamble on top of risk trying to pair one of them with Wilson.
Assuming they let Xavier Woods walk in free agency, the Cowboys will likely look to a mid-range veteran one a short-term contract. There aren’t any elite safety prospects in the 2021 draft class, at least nobody you’d trust to be a Week One starter as a rookie. That should push Dallas to go find someone in March.
Again, that could still be Woods. With Xavier unlikely to draw much interest in free agency after his down year, Dallas could potentially bring him back without much cost. That would allow him to compete for his starting job or, at worst, be the primary backup to whoever they bring in.
However it shakes out, it all begins with how the Cowboys feel about Xavier Woods. Do they still see the potential from 2018 or have the last two seasons nullified those early flahes? Are they willing to give him another chance in a changing defense?
Whether it’s as a starter or backup, Woods’ potential return in 2021 will be a key driver in what else the Cowboys do at safety this offseason.
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Other Cowboys 2021 Position Previews
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