Dallas Cowboys: Jeff Heath

Training Camp Battles: Safety

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
12:00
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With the start of training camp coming next week, we review the five biggest position battles with the Dallas Cowboys. Our series concludes today.

Safety

The favorite: J.J. Wilcox

The contenders: Matt Johnson, Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton

Outlook: Wilcox took over the starting job early in the 2013 season and held it until a knee injury cost him three games in the middle of the season. Heath took over the spot and was overmatched in too many games, particularly in pass coverage. Wilcox never regained the starting job but in offseason workouts, he worked with the first-team defense. Johnson hasn’t played in two seasons due to a variety of injuries and missed offseason workouts this spring with hamstring troubles. Johnson's time with the Cowboys is running out. Hamilton has some range and could steal a roster spot. The key for any of these safeties is special teams play and this is where Hamilton and maybe Heath come in.

Who wins?: Wilcox is the better safety here because he's a good tackler and has improved in pass coverage. The Cowboys like their safeties to be interchangeable, but Wilcox will perform more at the free safety position.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Safeties

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
1:30
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Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Safeties

On the roster: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton, Ahmad Dixon, Ryan Smith

Locks: Church, Wilcox, Heath

Virtual lock: Hamilton

Need help: Smith, Johnson, Dixon

How many fit? This is a thin group with only three locks and five spots open. And it’s possible the Cowboys go with four safeties, but they kept five last year and they don’t appear to have a hybrid corner/safety on the roster at this point.

Adding a veteran during camp or by the time the final cuts come around is a possibility.

Church
Church is the only truly known commodity. He is one of the most stable defensive players they have and has developed into something of a leader as well. The Cowboys want Wilcox to be the guy, but that doesn’t mean he will end up being the guy. He has much to learn after playing the spot only for a year at Georgia Southern and having his development slowed last year after the death of his mother and a knee injury. Heath will be a special-teams stalwart. He was forced to play too much last year, but he has fans throughout the building who believe he can grow into the job.

Of the remaining safeties, Hamilton had the best spring. He was a disappointment last year after he was one of their priority college free agents. He was not disciplined enough but was better in the OTAs and minicamp. Johnson’s lack of health has kept him off the field for the last two seasons, and he has run out of options. He did little in the spring because of a hamstring injury. He has to show he can stay healthy and make plays. The coaches say he did it in the limited work he has had over two seasons, but the Cowboys can be only so patient.

Dixon was drafted with the idea that he would be a special-teams ace as a rookie with the ability to grow. He is aggressive. He will attack. When the pads come on that should fit his game more. Smith is an intriguing undrafted prospect. He opened some eyes with his work in the spring and ability to cover some ground. Will he be aggressive when the pads come on? If he wants to build on a good first impression then he better.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs

Best case/worst case: J.J. Wilcox

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys’ season.

J.J. Wilcox

Best-case: He’s the guy

Wilcox
It’s clear the Cowboys want Wilcox to be the man. After the first three safeties available in the May draft -- Calvin Pryor, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jimmie Ward -- the Cowboys felt Wilcox was just as good as the others and therefore did not make an early or mid-round bid on a safety. Wilcox is new to the position, having only played it one year at Georgia Southern and just 13 games last season with the Cowboys. He was on the verge of winning the job in training camp but had to leave for a few weeks after the death of his mother. After taking over in Week 3, he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of three games and couldn't retake the job from Jeff Heath. Wilcox understands he has to make the step opposite Barry Church. He showed last summer he can make plays against the run and pass. He needs to add consistency, like all young players, but there is something to work with. If he can come up with a four-interception season, then the Cowboys will have their safety of the future.

Worst-case: Nobody takes the job

When Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, he managed to thrive with solid but unspectacular safeties. He did have a terrific front seven, but was able to get by with what he had at safety. He does not have a prolific front seven with the Cowboys, so he could need more from the safeties not named Church. If the job is too big for Wilcox, Heath, Matt Johnson or Jakar Hamilton, the Cowboys are in trouble. Wilcox will get the best chance to earn the gig. Heath was overexposed last season, but the Cowboys believe he has some upside. Johnson will remain a health question. Hamilton looked much better in the offseason than he did as a rookie. If they could combine each of their assets into one, then the Cowboys would have a decent player. They don’t need Darren Woodson, but they can’t have a repeat of last season, where the safeties were exposed on the deep ball and could not make enough disruptive plays. If it is a repeat, then put safety at the top of the list of team needs going into 2015.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
10:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • The state of the Cowboys defense.
  • Adding a new name to the veteran linebacker mix.
  • The future of B.W. Webb.
  • Tony Romo's two back surgeries.
  • Bruce Carter's performance in organized team activities.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: The odds say the defense can't be worse than it was last year, but I was saying the same thing about the 2013 defense compared to the previous year. Look where that got me. The Cowboys don't have a pass-rusher better than DeMarcus Ware on the current roster. They believe Henry Melton can be a younger (and better fit) version of Hatcher, but he's coming back from knee surgery. They will not have Sean Lee. It's hard to say the defense will be better. There are questions at every level and with almost every player. The safest picks are Barry Church and Orlando Scandrick. You know what you will get from those guys. Do you know what you'll get from anybody else? I'm not so sure. I'm playing the odds and say they will be better, but I don't see them cracking the top half of the league. If they can get in the low 20s, then they'll have a chance to make the playoffs. @toddarcher: Well, James Harrison doesn't play a position of need here in this scheme. If they were in a 3-4, I'd say yes. He was marginal last year in Cincinnati in a 4-3. Too many times we get caught up in names when it comes to the Cowboys. That's why everybody mentioned Brian Urlacher. Harrison was a great player, on par with Ware. He made a ton of disruptive plays. But he's not that guy anymore. And he doesn't fit a need. The strong-side linebacker in this scheme is going to play 40 percent of the snaps. It will be either Kyle Wilber or DeVonte Holloman, and Wilber will get my vote. Harrison had his time. He's not a guy the Cowboys need to go after. @toddarcher: If I was putting together a 53-man roster right now, Webb would not be on it. Sterling Moore has been better. Tyler Patmon, who was at the rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and earned a job, has been better. We haven't seen seventh rounder Terrance Mitchell since the rookie camp because of league rules, but I'd put him ahead of Webb right now. You're just not seeing progress either outside or in the slot. I hate to give up on a guy in his second year, but sometimes it's just obvious. He has the athletic ability but it's just not translating. He was getting virtual one-on-one coaching last year when he was forced to play and he struggled. Right now he would be my fifth or sixth corner at best. He has to have a really good training camp and preseason to make the club. @toddarcher: It's still a surgery. They still had to knock him out. It still kept him out for an entire offseason. Jerry Jones likened it to a toothache, but it was enough to keep him out of everything. Was it as serious as the one he had last December? No, but it's still something. It's still accurate. @toddarcher: I wish I could say he's been different than in the past, but he's been about the same. I'm not meaning to sound down on him, but it's difficult to cover Jason Witten. I haven't noticed him on backs as much and he struggled there last year. But he's been in position a few times and not made a play. He's made some plays. It's been OK. He needs to be better than OK. That doesn't mean he has to turn into Derrick Brooks, but he has to take a step forward. Sometimes he will do something and you'll say, Wow. Other times you're left wondering what he was watching.

Cowboys maintain patience with Johnson

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- When Matt Johnson spoke after the first day of the Dallas Cowboys' organized team activities about how well his hamstrings had felt for more than year, he joked that he needed to find a piece of wood to knock on.

Johnson
It must not have worked.

Johnson has missed most of the OTAs with a sore hamstring but there is a tiny hope will be able to do some work during next week's minicamp. Johnson suffered hamstring injuries that mostly kept him out for his entire rookie year. He missed last season with a foot injury that required surgery.

As they have since they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the Cowboys will remain patient.

"Our attitude is to try to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do," coach Jason Garrett said.

Some of you might ask why.

"The interesting thing about Matt is that every time we've given him an opportunity, he seems to do a pretty good job, whether it's in practice or some of the scrimmage situations that he's been in," Garrett said. "He just needs time on task. He needs to get out there. It seems to me that he's got a real good approach mentally. He continues to work. He doesn't seem outwardly frustrated. I'm sure he is, but he's just got to continue to work through it, get himself healthy. We're going to try to give him every chance to show us what he can do."

If the Cowboys were set at the safety position maybe they would feel otherwise. While they like what J.J. Wilcox has done this offseason, he is hardly a lock to win the spot. Jeff Heath started nine games last year.

Johnson, despite his inability to stay healthy, still has a chance to win a job.

Five Wonders: Durant a starter or gone?

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
9:00
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IRVING, Texas -- With the Dallas Cowboys holding their final open-to-the-media organized team activity today at Valley Ranch, what better time than now to bring back Five Wonders?

[+] EnlargeJustin Durant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Cowboys could use Justin Durant to fill in for Sean Lee or look to go younger at the position.
I believe Justin Durant will be the opening day starter at middle linebacker with Sean Lee out for the year. He has the most experience. He was OK in his spot work there last year before getting hurt himself. But let's say things don't go well for him in training camp and the preseason and he outplayed by DeVonte Holloman or Anthony Hitchens. I wonder if it would be worth it to keep him around. If he is cut (or traded) then the move would save $1.25 million against the cap. Every little bit of room helps. I know what you're saying. The Cowboys can't entrust the position to two players with little to no experience. Well, why not? They did it last year when they cut safety Will Allen and named J.J. Wilcox the starter. Wilcox almost immediately got hurt and that put undrafted rookie Jeff Heath in the starting lineup. Was cutting Allen a mistake last year? Perhaps it was, but he did not play that well and he was not a big special teams help. It would be a risky move, but Durant will not be around in 2015. Is it better to get Holloman or Hitchens the work with the future in mind? The coaches who are fighting for their jobs might think otherwise, but it's something to ponder.

• One of the biggest benefits of practicing against a team in training camp is to break up the monotony. You hear players all the time say they just enjoy seeing another color jersey on the practice field. So that's what the Cowboys will get when they work against the Oakland Raiders, as expected, in Oxnard, Caliornia. But I wonder if there is more of a benefit in the player evaluation side of things. In addition to the monotony of camp, players can figure out offensive and defensive tendencies. Players have been known to see the practice scripts over the years, which give them a heads up as to what to expect. When that happens, they'll obviously look better than perhaps they are. With the Raiders bringing in fresh schemes on offense and defense, a corner won't be as familiar with the routes, splits and speed and a receiver and offensive tackle won't know every move he'll see from a defensive end. It will only be two practices, but those sessions figure to be the most hotly contested of the summer and the personnel department will have some fresh tape to see.

• I'll admit I don't know much about Terrell McClain. He did not play very much for the Houston Texans last year. The Cowboys signed him to a modest deal that included a $300,000 signing bonus. But I wonder if McClain will be this year's version of George Selvie. Last summer Selvie had the look of a training camp body with the injuries the Cowboys suffered along the defensive line. He ended up not only making the team but he started every game and had a career-high seven sacks. McClain has been one of the more impressive players in team drills during the OTAs. The line has had a hard time blocking him. He has had to play the three-technique mostly because of Henry Melton's recovery from knee surgery, and has shown the ability to pressure the quarterback and make a tackle or two for a loss. I think he ends up as the starting nose tackle on this defense when Melton is back on the field.

• The Cowboys finally found a home for Kyle Wilber late last season when they were forced to move him to outside linebacker. He started the final six games on the strong side and had 31 of his 42 tackles. He also had two tackles for loss and two quarterback pressures. He has been working with the first team in defense so far this offseason and looks the part. But last week's OTA offered up another opportunity for Wilber that I had not previously expected. Perhaps it was due to a shortage of defensive ends because a number of them were sitting out the team drills, but Wilber moved to defensive end in two-minute drills. I wonder if he can play a split role the way the New York Giants use Mathias Kiwanuka. He played linebacker in his career and would put his hand on the ground in pass-rushing situations. I'm not saying Wilber will be Kiwanuka, whom I believe has been a little underrated, but Wilber can add to his versatility by showing the ability to play both spots.

• What would a Wonders be without checking in on a contract situation? I wonder if the Cowboys should look at extending the offers to receivers Dwayne Harris and/or Cole Beasley this summer. What? Hear me out. Both players are expected to be restricted free agents after this season. The bottom tender offer for a restricted free agent this year was about $1.4 million. The Cowboys thought that was too high of a price for Phillip Tanner and chose not to tender an offer to the running back this year. That number will go about in 2015 when the team will have to make decisions on Harris and Beasley. I do believe it will be easier to justify putting the tender on Harris because he is a valuable special teamer in the return and coverage games. Beasley is a punt returner, but not nearly as effective as Harris. But Beasley will have a role in this offense because of his work in the slot. It should be noted that he is only running routes in the slot during the offseason, so with that comes some limitation on what he would be paid in the future. Can the Cowboys figure out a way to give Beasley a little bump in pay this year, a good base salary in 2015, but less than the projected RFA tender and buy out his unrestricted free agency year? It sure would seem possible and it would guarantee Beasley a job in the future with a quarterback that really believes in him in Tony Romo.

Matt Johnson hopes this is the year

May, 30, 2014
May 30
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Matt Johnson remains the most mysterious of all Dallas Cowboys.

In his third season with the Cowboys, he has yet to play a game. Hamstring, back and foot injuries have kept him off the field in his first two seasons. He is like some sort of myth.

Johnson
The questions asked to him on Tuesday after the first organized team activities (OTAs) were the same asked to him last spring.

“I can just repeat my answers from last year,” Johnson joked. “I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a groove playing football really since my senior year in college. It’s just good to get back out there with the guys and compete and kind of gear up for a new season.”

He hopes the new season isn’t like the old season. The Cowboys have been extremely patient with Johnson, perhaps more than they should have been. Johnson understands the angst fans have toward him.

“I have to own it, there’s no other way,” Johnson said. “I’ve been hurt. I haven’t proven myself. I haven’t proven why they drafted me.”

The Cowboys drafted Johnson in the fourth round out of Eastern Washington because of his abilities to make plays. He had 17 interceptions in four seasons. He had a four-interception game against Portland State as a sophomore.

All of that is so long ago, but Johnson still has a chance to deliver on what the Cowboys saw in him in 2012. They waited until the seventh round to draft a safety earlier in the month (Ahmad Dixon) and have yet to add a veteran. J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick last year, is working with the starters now. Johnson is working the second team with Jeff Heath.

The screw in his foot will remain unless it starts to bother him. So far it hasn’t. He hasn’t had an issue with his hamstrings in more than a year, but he quickly looked to knock on wood once he said it.

Even though he hasn’t shown it, he feels he has improved.

“Mentally is the only way,” Johnson said. “I’ve tried to get better at my footwork when I’ve been out there, but I’m grasping the game better. It’s slowed down for me definitely from my rookie minicamp to now. The game is a lot slower. I want to get in a groove each day. I see myself progressing whereas before it was progress, progress, progress, have a setback. It would be nice to keep it going for a while.”

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

May, 17, 2014
May 17
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

Will the Cowboys be balanced on offense? What do the wide receiver and linebacker situations look like? How about the safety position?

For Part 1, click here.

Away we go:
.

Cowboys believe J.J. Wilcox will blossom

May, 13, 2014
May 13
12:30
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IRVING, Texas -- Everybody believes one of the Dallas Cowboys' most pressing needs is safety. Everybody except the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Wilcox
Howard Smith/USA Today SportsThe Cowboys will rely on second-year safety J.J. Wilcox to add depth to the position in 2014.
The Cowboys liked Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, the top-rated safeties in the draft, but did not love either, especially when compared to offensive tackle Zack Martin, whom they took with the 16th pick in the first round. The Cowboys could have had Dix or Pryor at No. 16 but stuck with their board.

They loved Jimmie Ward, but in the second round. The San Francisco 49ers took Ward with the 30th pick in the first round.

When they looked at the rest of the board, they saw safeties who were comparable to what they already had on the roster, according to executive vice president Stephen Jones.

The Cowboys are putting their belief in last year’s third-round pick, J.J. Wilcox. He had 38 tackles in 2013. He started five games and missed three with a knee injury.

But it was the loss of his mother, Marshell Wilcox, in training camp that affected Wilcox’s performance the most. The Cowboys were set to name him the starter in training camp on the day his mother died, according to Jones. He missed two weeks to be with his family to grieve. He eventually was named the starter in Week 3.

SportsNation

Which 7th-round pick has the best chance to make an impact for the Cowboys this season?

  •  
    10%
  •  
    48%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,574)

“That can get a lot of people off track when you have that type of emotional tragedy like that,” Jones said. “It took a toll on him, and we started seeing signs of what we’d seen in camp towards the end of the year. But I think, obviously, that was a tough deal he was going through, and we have a lot of confidence we’re going to see the J.J. we saw in training camp.”

Wilcox was mostly a running back at Georgia Southern, playing safety only his senior season. The Dallas coaches, however, saw him make a quick transition to the position and were primed to rely on him as a rookie. After hurting his knee, Wilcox could not unseat Jeff Heath as the starter opposite Barry Church, but saw his playing time increase down the stretch.

The Cowboys drafted Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon in the seventh round. They also have Matt Johnson and Jakar Hamilton at the position. Johnson still intrigues because the 2012 fourth-round pick has yet to stay healthy enough to play in a game.

“Matt Johnson is the great unknown,” Jones said. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll stay healthy and we’ll get to really take a long look at him.”
IRVING, Texas -- With only $80,362 to spend on rookie free-agent signing bonuses, the Dallas Cowboys have a little advantage over other teams with three compensatory picks in the seventh round.

Instead of having to guarantee portions of a base salary to get around the bonus limit, the Cowboys can target their priority free agents with picks Nos. 248, 251 and 254 in the seventh round on Saturday.

Last year the Cowboys guaranteed linebacker Brandon Magee $70,000, and he was among their final cuts, eventually joining the Cleveland Browns. Safety Jakar Hamilton received a $10,000 signing bonus. Safety Jeff Heath received $2,000 and became a starter.

Historically the Cowboys have done well in college free agency with Hamilton, Heath and Cam Lawrence earning spots on the 53-man roster at some point in 2013. In 2012, the Cowboys added Ronald Leary, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar and Ben Bass as undrafted free agents. Leary is a starter, while Beasley and Dunbar have legitimate offensive roles.

Kicker Dan Bailey was the best undrafted free-agent signing in 2011 and signed a seven-year deal this offseason.

The Cowboys have six seventh-round selections.

“The seventh-round picks historically are throw-ins [in trades],” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I don’t know if the league has caught up to what value a seventh-round pick is, in terms of the quote-unquote ‘charts’ that are out there. If you look at what a seventh-round pick can bring you, you start to say the player [in the seventh round] is more valuable than boosting the bottom of the six [round] to five picks, 10 picks up to the middle of the sixth when a lot of times that player will fall to you anyway. A lot of times you see it as thrown-ins. I see it as a great opportunity for us to take six players that can help our football team.”
IRVING, Texas -- In many ways a successful draft is measured by how well a team does in the later rounds.

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe put together a story about teams that draft well and poorly with an interesting graphic.

SportsNation

Who would be the best first-round pick for the Cowboys?

  •  
    21%
  •  
    49%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,576)

The Dallas Cowboys are one of six teams not to have a current starter they selected in Rounds 5-7, according to the chart, which means Volin did not count Orlando Scandrick (fifth round, 2008) as a starter even though he started most of the 2013 season. If Morris Claiborne performed up to capabilities and was not hurt, he would have been the starter. If you count Scandrick, then the Cowboys would be one of 12 teams to have one starter from Rounds 5-7.

The other five without a starter were the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.

Since 2010, the Cowboys have had 12 picks in Rounds 5-7 and only Dwayne Harris, James Hanna, Joseph Randle and DeVonte Holloman remain.

Hitting on late-round picks is guesswork in a lot of ways. In 2004, the Cowboys hit on three seventh-rounders in Nate Jones, Patrick Crayton and Jacques Reeves. They all had productive NFL careers and earned second contracts.

That’s the goal: find players who can fill roles. The Cowboys kept Crayton for a second contract, but Jones and Reeves left after their rookie deals expired.

Teams build their depth through late-round picks and the Cowboys have not hit enough in the late rounds to fortify their depth. The Seattle Seahawks had an NFL-best five starters from Rounds 5-7 in 2013. The Philadelphia Eagles were next with four.

Also in Volin’s chart is a look at undrafted starters. The Cowboys had a league-high five in 2013 with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Barry Church, Ronald Leary and Jeff Heath. The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins had four apiece to tie for second.

For years the Cowboys have excelled in finding undrafted free agents. In the last three years they have landed Dan Bailey, Phillip Tanner, Chris Jones, Ben Bass, Cole Beasley, Leary, Heath and Cam Lawrence.

They make up for the misses in Rounds 5-7 with hits in undrafted free agency. With three compensatory picks in the seventh round this year, the Cowboys will have the chance to draft what would have been their priority undrafted free agents.

They only hope they’re not just making up for misses in Rounds 5-7.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss the best way for the Cowboys to win, the apparent plans at safety, finding a future quarterback, rebuilding and Ed Reed. Ed Reed? Yep.

Away we go:

 

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:45
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Church
Thomas
Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harrison (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • Realistic expectations for the season.
  • The future of Jason Garrett.
  • Offense or defense with their first pick.

Part 2 of the mailbag comes on Saturday.

Away we go:

 

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