IRVING, Texas – Heading into the 1998 season, Darren Woodson had six years under his belt, and three Super Bowl rings on his fingers.
He was not only an established presence, but a locker room leader on a defense that always took a backseat to the Triplets of Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.
Yet, Woodson says one of the best additions the Cowboys ever made occurred that season when they signed another veteran at his very position.
“George Teague was one of the best safeties I ever played with,” Woodson recalled. “He was great for our team. He was a leader. He knew how to get guys lined up. And he would call people out.
“That’s what the Cowboys need right now.”
Woodson said it’s a “George Teague type of guy” that is missing from the Cowboys’ secondary, especially at safety. While that’s been a position of need since Woodson retired from the game after the 2004 season, the veteran said he would prefer to see his former team acquire a safety in free agency.
“They need a well-rounded guy like George was. He was probably the smartest person I’ve ever played with,” Woodson said. “A guy that lines everyone up and calms everything down. That’s what they need. It doesn’t matter if the guy is cocky or arrogant, it needs to be someone people respect and will say, ‘this guy knows his stuff.’”
And yes, he’s well aware the Cowboys have gone that route here in the last two years and it hasn’t worked.
Woodson says try it again.
“They don’t have to have the best athlete,” Woodson said. “Just get a guy who will help them prepare. Almost like a coach on the field.”
Woodson, who still follows the NFL rather closely as a studio analyst for ESPN, said the Cowboys have some talent at safety but would like to see them give
“Going into the season, I thought Barry was going to have a really good year,” Woodson said, despite Church coming off a torn Achilles injury in 2012. “For the most part, he played extremely well. He tackles well in space. He plays hard. He’s mentally ready to play. I just think he needs another guy.
“Again, I would like to see a veteran presence back there with him, someone who can sharpen each other.”
Woodson isn’t trying to diminish the play of either
“He’s a good kid,” Woodson said. “I think he has a chance to be a good player. But he’s still learning. The Cowboys need some veteran help.”
So just who’s out there?
The Cowboys aren’t even under the salary cap just yet so money will certainly be tight when it comes to spending sprees.
The best safety on the market is arguably Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, who was not given the franchise tag this week, making him unrestricted on March 11 if he doesn’t sign a long-term deal with the Bills.
Byrd already has 22 interceptions in his five-year career, one less than Woodson’s 23 for his entire career. Byrd, who turns 28 in October, had nine interceptions as a rookie in 2009 with the Bills.
Cleveland’s T.J. Ward is a physical player who is clearly a strong safety that excels in run support. While he has just five interceptions he also has five forced fumbles.
San Francisco’s Donte Whitner is another physical presence who also manages to stay on the field. The durable veteran has missed only 12 games during his eight seasons, including one in the last four years.
Miami’s Chris Clemons might be the best coverage safety in free agency. He has ideal size and can play both positions in the secondary.
Other veteran safeties expected to become free agents include Detroit’s Louis Delmas, Indianapolis safety Antione Bethea, Chicago’s Major Wright and the Giants’ Stevie Brown, who missed last year with a torn ACL. Brown might have some good value considering his price tag could be lowered with the injury, but his talent level is on point with the other top safeties.