Dallas Cowboys: Danieal Manning

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
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.

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 ready to roll with young safeties

March, 31, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- When in doubt, connect a free agent to the Dallas Cowboys.

That’s what happened Monday when the Houston Texans released safety Danieal Manning. He plays a position of need for the Cowboys. He has experience. He played for Rod Marinelli in Chicago, albeit only for one year. He checks all of the boxes.

Except for the fact the Cowboys appear willing to be ready to go with their young safeties next to Barry Church, with J.J. Wilcox, last year’s third-round pick, Matt Johnson, a fourth-rounder in 2012 who has yet to play in a game, and Jeff Heath, an undrafted free agent who was forced to play a ton in 2013.

In the Cowboys' system, Church is listed as the free safety. He will line up in the box as the extra run defender. He will move around more. The other safety has to have more centerfield skills. Manning has 11 interceptions for his career.

There is also the fact he turns 32 in August.

The Cowboys went the veteran route in Will Allen last year and they didn’t get what they had wanted. (Or they cut him too soon because after his release the safety play suffered when Wilcox got hurt). As I mentioned in Monday’s blog on re-setting free agency, there is a downside to most of the players available and age is at the top of the list.

The Cowboys believe they will be better served to go with youth, and if need be they can add a safety in the summer if needed.

How much safety help can Cowboys afford?

July, 27, 2011
SAN ANTONIO – The Cowboys’ front office accomplished its primary goal by locking up left tackle Doug Free to a long-term deal.

Addressing the safety positions isn’t far down the list.

Jerry Jones acknowledged in the middle of last season that the safety play was one of his primary concerns. That is still the case.

Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who had three of his career-high five interceptions in the final four games of last season, is an unrestricted free agent with hopes of getting a significant pay raise from his 2010 salary of $1.8 million. Free safety Alan Ball, who struggled all season, will most likely return to a reserve cornerback role.

That leaves the Cowboys with four second-year safeties – fourth-round pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and undrafted Barry Church, Danny McCray and Andrew Sendejo – and some rookie free agents on the active roster. They like Owusu-Ansah’s athleticism, but he’s a Division II product who spent most of his rookie year on injured reserve. Church is a big hitter with good instincts, but he has below-average speed that might be exposed if he’s a starter.

The Cowboys will certainly attempt to acquire some veteran help.

"Obviously, we'd like to improve that position if we can," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "That's one of our priorities. It's obviously something we're working on. We'll see. Whether, it's one or two, I don't know the answer to that. It could be three. You have to see, at the end of the day, whether things are going to work out and what's available and what fits for us. We're still very confident we can get the help there that we need."

The problem is the price. The Cowboys had interest in Eric Weddle, but he committed to re-sign with the Chargers, getting a historic contract for a safety in NFL history (five years, $40 million). The Rams gave Quintin Mikell a four-year, $28 million deal.

"I think in any market, you have players who in the first part of it, right out of the bag, you see some deals that are big," Jones said. "They all can't make big money at the end of the day. There's salary caps. We knew that would probably happen. I wouldn't say we're surprised. It happens. I think at some point, as it has in the past, those things start to -- after everybody gets their main priorities where they were going to spend money -- then you have your next level and your next level, and those things work themselves out."

The Cowboys have also had conversations with agents for Sensabaugh and Abram Elam, who started for Rob Ryan’s Browns the last two seasons. There are several potentially more affordable options with starting experience on the market, such as the ex-Jet Brodney Pool and former Bear Danieal Manning.

The Cowboys’ interest in ex-Raider Michael Huff, an Irving Nimitz and Texas product, isn’t clear. However, Huff is likely to receive a contract in the Weddle/Mikell range, and it doesn’t sound as if the Cowboys intend to make that type of investment in a safety.

The Cowboys guaranteed they would have two glaring holes at safety when they didn’t address the position in the draft, giving Gerald Sensabaugh some leverage.

What went wrong with the Cowboys' defense last season? Was it lack of talent or poor execution? Tim MacMahon and Skin weigh in.

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However, the depth of the safety pool in free agency should prevent the Cowboys from overpaying, a mistake they’ve made recently with safeties Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin.

Sensabaugh has made it clear that he’s hoping for a big raise after making $1.8 million last season. He can point to his career-high five interceptions in 2010 as evidence that he’s worth much more money. But there are several available safeties who are proven starters that are likely to be in the Cowboys’ price range.

We’ll skip over Michael Huff, Eric Weddle and Quintin Mikell, who might be good fits for the Cowboys but could be expensive.

Here is how Sensabaugh compares to some free agent safeties who might be more affordable, with the 2010 numbers from Stats Inc.:

Gerald Sensabaugh
Age: 28
Previous team: Cowboys
2010 stats: 69 tackles, five interceptions, two sacks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, 10 passes defensed. Opponents completed 26-of-48 passes for 413 yards and one touchdown against him (54.2 completion percentage, 8.6 yards per attempt).

Roman Harper
Age: 28
Previous team: Saints
2010 stats: 93 tackles, one interception, three sacks, six forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, eight passes defensed. Opponents completed 19-of-35 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns against him (54.3 completion percentage, 4.5 yards per attempt).

Abram Elam
Age: 29
Previous team: Browns
2010 stats: 77 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 10 passes defensed. Opponents completed 20-of-41 for 309 yards and three touchdowns against him (48.8 completion percentage, 7.5 yards per attempt).

Dawan Landry
Age: 28
Previous team: Ravens
2010 stats: 108 tackles, no interceptions, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, four passes defensed. Opponents completed 24-of-50 for 330 yards and four touchdowns (48.0 completion percentage, 6.6 yards per attempt).

Danieal Manning
Age: 28
Previous team: Bears
2010 stats: 72 tackles, one interception, no sacks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, seven passes defensed. Opponents completed 23-of-47 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns against him (48.9 completion percentage, 6.9 yards per attempt).

Brodney Pool
Age: 27
Previous team: Jets
2010 stats: 50 tackles, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 11 passes defensed. Opponents completed 13-of-30 passes for 156 yards and no touchdowns (43.3 completion percentage, 5.2 yards per attempt).

Deon Grant
Age: 31
Previous team: Giants
2010 stats: 59 tackles, three interceptions, one sack, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 10 passes defensed. Opponents completed 30-of-50 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns against him (60.0 completion percentage, 7.6 yards per attempt).

Safety is one position Cowboys must fill

July, 21, 2011
The lockout could end at some point this weekend. Maybe today.

We hope.

In terms of the Cowboys, this team needs help at several positions, and safety is the biggest issue for this team coming out of the lockout.

The two starting safeties from 2010, Gerald Sensabaugh and Alan Ball were inconsistent last year.

Ball was tied for the league lead with seven touchdowns allowed. Sensabaugh, while tied with Terence Newman for the team-lead with five interceptions, struggled at the start of the season. Sensabaugh probably tried to compensate for Ball's weakness.

Ball is being moved back to his natural position of corner and Sensabaugh is an unrestricted free agent. While Sensabaugh would like a fair market deal, finding the right fit in a scheme is important to him.

The Cowboys have some players on their roster who might take over one of the safety spots: Danny McCray, Barry Church, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Andrew Sendejo. Yet those players are unproven.

The free agent market is where the team most likely will get at least one of the two safety spots filled.

A debate rages as to who is the best safety on the market.

Sensabaugh is out there and played 929 snaps last season.

Danieal Manning didn't allow a touchdown last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and out of 925 defensive snaps quarterbacks had a 59.7 quarterback rating against him when throwing in his direction.

There are others such as Quintin Mikell, in which offenses averaged 11.7 yards per catch against him, Michael Huff, who gave up three touchdowns out of 1,009 snaps, Eric Weddle, who allowed 12.7 yards per catch and Abram Elam the former Cowboys special teamer. Let's not forget Dawan Landry and Brodney Pool.

Manning and Elam might have a slight edge over the other safeties on the market. Manning can also return kicks, and Elam has played for new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, when he was in Cleveland. Huff might be too expensive, especially with the Cowboys trying to lock up left tackle Doug Free long-term and getting under the $120 million salary cap. The other safeties futures are uncertain.

The Cowboys could go with a veteran at the free safety spot and then get one of the young players, Church possibly, to play strong safety. It seems Ryan would like to blitz more this season, and expects it to come from different spots on the field, and that includes sending corners and safeties.

Last year, the Cowboys pass rush struggled to take some pressure off the secondary. It left corners such as Mike Jenkins and Newman in vulnerable situations. If Ryan can fix the front seven, then maybe adding a younger player at strong safety will be Ok.

But this market for safeties is pretty strong and while the team does need to take care of the left tackle and left guard positions, they can't afford to mess up at safety.

CBA proposal would deepen safety pool

June, 23, 2011
The proposal to allow unsigned players with four and five years of service to be unrestricted free agents isn't good news for the Cowboys, as we discussed Tuesday.

First and foremost, it'd make re-signing left tackle Doug Free more difficult, or at least more expensive. Ditto for defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher.

However, there would be a silver lining at Valley Ranch.

The pool at safety, a primary position of need, would become significantly deeper. San Diego's Eric Weddle, Chicago's Danieal Manning and Indianapolis' Melvin Bullitt are among the safeties who would have been restricted under last year's rules but would be free to test the open market under the new proposal.

Weddle would arguably be the best available safety. Manning (Corsicana) and Bullitt (Garland Naaman Forest) are quality starters with local roots.

Even if the Cowboys didn't sign one of those guys, their availability would deepen the pool at safety and increase the odds of the Cowboys signing a quality player to plug into the starting lineup.

Cowboys have plenty of options at safety

March, 7, 2011
A pair of accomplished safeties found new homes last week without even an invitation to visit Valley Ranch.

Business in the NFL is changing in big ways; can the Cowboys keep their head above water or will they be drowned in financial trouble? Ben and Skin weigh in.

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Cowboys fans can feel free to panic after O.J. Atogwe and Bob Sanders went off the market, but it’s probably premature. There will be safeties available in free agency capable of filling the glaring void in the Dallas secondary, assuming that there is free agency this offseason.

It’s tough to blame the Cowboys for not taking a risk on Sanders, whose terrific career has been derailed by injuries. He’s been healthy enough to play in only nine games in three seasons since being named the NFL’s defensive player of the year.

I don’t quite understand the Cowboys’ lack of interest in Atogwe for the second consecutive season. He’s a safety who is reliable against the run and pass and has a track record of forcing turnovers. However, even if the Cowboys were in pursuit of the soon-to-be 30-year-old, they probably would have been outbid by the Redskins. Danny Snyder, a man known to overpay in the free-agent market, gave Atogwe a five-year, $26 million contract.

If the Cowboys don’t sign a safety, they deserve to be ripped for ignoring Atogwe. But that’s not the case if they sign any of the following six players: Michael Huff, Quintin Mikell, Eric Weddle, Danieal Manning, Dawan Landry or Brodney Pool.

Just a hunch, but the Cowboys might have their hopes set on Huff, an Irving Nimitz and Texas product who has started to live up to his potential as a top-10 pick after a few disappointing seasons at the beginning of his career. Rob Ryan was the Raiders’ defensive coordinator when they drafted Huff seventh overall in 2006.

Huff, 28, is an elite coverage safety with a knack for blitzing. He’d be a tremendous upgrade over Alan Ball.

Perhaps Huff could be paired with Gerald Sensabaugh, although the Cowboys aren’t going to give the strong safety the lucrative long-term deal he wants in free agency. Maybe the Cowboys find their second starting safety in the draft.

Anybody who watched the Cowboys play last season knows that improving at safety ranks atop the offseason priorities. The fact that they were spectators while a couple of big-name safeties changed addresses shouldn’t prevent them from addressing the problem.

Position Series: Safeties

February, 23, 2011
Players: Alan Ball (free agent), Gerald Sensabaugh (free agent), Barry Church (signed through 2012), Danny McCray (signed through 2012), Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (signed through 2013), Andrew Sendejo (signed through 2011)

Top free agents: Michael Huff, Oakland Raiders; O.J. Atogwe, St. Louis Rams; Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts; Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints; Quintin Mikell, Philadelphia Eagles; Danieal Manning, Chicago Bears; Dawan Landry, Baltimore Ravens

[+] EnlargeBall
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDon't expect safety Alan Ball to be a starter next season, if he's even on the Cowboys' roster in 2011.
Top draft prospects: Rahim Moore, UCLA; Quinton Carter, Oklahoma; DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson; Robert Sands, West Virginia; Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple.

2010 review: To put it simply, this position was a problem. The Cowboys made a major misevaluation with Alan Ball, who doesn’t have the instincts or tackling ability to be a starting free safety for a decent NFL defense. Gerald Sensabaugh was a disappointment for most of the season, although he finished strong by making four of his five interceptions in the last six games. He was not a factor against the run or an intimidating presence in the middle of the field. Barry Church and Danny McCray didn’t perform well enough in limited playing time to make a case to contend for a starting job. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, who missed much of camp due to shoulder surgery and was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, essentially had a redshirt season.

Offseason preview: The Cowboys have to find at least one, and preferably two, new starting safeties. If Ball is on the roster next season, it’ll be as a backup and core special teams player. There is a chance that Sensabaugh could return as a starter, but the Cowboys won’t give him the lucrative long-term deal he’s looking for in free agency. It would behoove the Cowboys to be aggressive in free agency, but they haven’t set up a visit with O.J. Atogwe, who is available to sign immediately after being released by the Rams this week. There are no safeties who are projected as top-10 picks, so don’t expect the Cowboys to draft one in the first round. They should be able to find a starter in the second or third round.

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