Cowboys position series: Safeties

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
11:01
PM ET
This is the 10th installment of our 12-part series breaking down the Cowboys roster. Today we look at safeties.

[+] EnlargeAbram Elam
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFree agent Abram Elam knows Rob Ryan's defensive scheme, but he might want a longer deal than the Cowboys are willing to offer.
Players: Gerald Sensabaugh (signed through 2016), Danny McCray (signed through 2012), Abram Elam (free agent), Mana Silva (signed through 2013), Barry Church (signed through 2012).

Top free agents: Tyvon Branch, Oakland Raiders; Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans; LaRon Landry, Washington Redskins; Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers; Mike Adams, Cleveland Browns.

Top draft prospects: Mark Barron, Alabama; Antonio Allen, South Carolina; Harrison Smith, Notre Dame; George Iloka, Boise State; Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State.

2011 review: The Cowboys were inconsistent at this position in 2010. Last season, Elam's return brought some stability, but he became inconsistent, too. Sensabaugh played well at the start of the season but a foot injury slowed his progress. The Cowboys valued Sensabaugh and gave him a new contract. Church showed defensive coordinator Rob Ryan he could play a little linebacker and should see more playing time in 2012. McCray was a solid contributor on special teams but a shoulder injury late in the season slowed him down.

Offseason preview: Signing Elam might be a good thing for the Cowboys since he knows Ryan's defensive scheme, but he might want a long-term deal and that's something the franchise might be unwilling to offer. Sensabaugh can play both safety spots, and seemed to excel as a free safety. Finding a strong safety willing to play the run with a force is must for the Cowboys. If the team elects to draft a safety, Barron most likely will be gone at No. 14, so waiting until the second or third day of the draft might be the best move. A free-agent safety might command too much money on the open market, which the Cowboys don't seem willing to offer.

Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Eye: Since losing Darren Woodson, Jerry Jones has attacked this position with poor results, either through the draft (Roy Williams, Tony Dixon) or free agency (Ken Hamlin, Gerald Sensabaugh). As other NFL teams have been able to fill this all-important position, the Cowboys have continued to struggle to find the right mix. During 2011, the Cowboys made a two-year commitment to Sensabaugh and nothing to Abram Elam. When he signed, Elam was praised as a player that would help his teammates master Rob Ryan’s scheme. As the season wore on, however, it was clear that Elam and his teammates were far from prepared on a weekly basis. I don’t have a problem with the Sensabaugh signing, but this team needs a safety that can play with some range and help these corners on the outside. Too many times, the ball went down the field and receivers were able to make plays to keep drives going. I like younger players like Barry Church and Danny McCray, but they are more forward players and aren’t safeties with range. Ryan needs a guy that can make plays down the field or the defense will continue to struggle to get off the field. To me, fixing that problem is just as important as finding a player that can rush the passer.

Need meter (0-5): 3
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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