The Dallas Cowboys entered free agency with the desire to improve their defense at almost every position. Safety, which has preoccupied Dallas for years, was high on the list of needs.
The Cowboys made a serious attempt to improve their safety game this week when the club added two well-known former Falcons, free safety Damontae Kazee, hybrid safety and linebacker Keanu Neal, as well as former Leon Jayron Kearse. However, the club could still benefit from giving another veteran a shot in free agency, or using an early draft pick at the position.
Kazee and Neal are extremely talented players who should add two very different dynamics to Dallas’ defense, but both carry some risk. Neal’s injury history is well documented, as he missed most of 2018 with a torn ACL and 2019 with a torn Achilles tendon. Before these injuries, Neal was a force for Dan Quinn in Atlanta. The former Florida Gator made the Pro-Bowl in just his second season, quickly establishing himself as one of the best strong safety in the league.
Neal may have lost a bit of speed after his lower-body injuries, but that could be less damaging if the Cowboys move him to the role of covering linebacker as many hope.
Kazee, a fifth-round pick, turned out to be a diamond in the rough for Quinn and the Falcons. In his second season in 2018, he showed his range and ball skills by intercepting seven passes, the most in the league. Kazee also tore his Achilles tendon after four games in 2020, and it remains to be seen how he recovers from one of the most serious injuries an athlete can sustain.
Signed between the two, Kearse started seven games for the Lions a year ago before being suspended in late December. Kearse began his career in Minnesota, where he was a significant contributor on special teams. Weighing in at 6ft 4in and 215lbs, the Clemson product has the frame to offer versatility in a way similar to Neal, but it has yet to prove it can make an impact on good defense.
All the additions have question marks, as do Darian Thompson and Steven Parker, who saw important snapshots in 2020. The only safety Dallas has on the roster they can trust may be Donovan Wilson. Wilson was a sixth-round pick in 2019, but emerged in his second season.
Wilson started the last ten games and was clearly the most impactful safety on the team, playing with a physique and reckless abandonment that sparked a defensive turnaround, especially in the turnover department.
Yet Wilson has only those ten career starts, and while he should certainly continue to improve, there is always the possibility that the former Aggie may not be the answer in security that he appears to be today.
An injury, or a regression in play, and the Cowboys could be in dire need of another safety. That said, the Cowboys have cap room to throw another dart at a veteran at the position, like Duron Harmon, Tashaun Gipson or even Malik Hooker, who visited Dallas earlier this week.
Whether Dallas ended up at free agency or not, the club could still use one of its many draft picks on safety. There are no classified safeties in the range of the Cowboys’ first pick (No. 10 overall), but Trevon Moehrig (TCU), Richie Grant (UCF), Andre Cisco (Syracuse), Ar’Darius Washington (TCU), and Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State) are all capable players who could be selected from the end of the first round until Day 2.