PHOENIX – Jeff Heath won't be handed Barry Church's old starting job, but the Cowboys' divisional-round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers further cemented the team's confidence in their 25-year-old safety.
"You saw him play," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
"He made what normally would have been the game-winning play if we don't have a tough call, and that comes with our game. He had a huge sack in the game. He theoretically had two picks. He was making plays. I think if you turn on the tape and watch that, there are a lot of people who wonder why isn't that guy starting, you know, in terms of making plays on the ball and that type of thing.'"
Heath played 22.5 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016, recording 20 tackles and an interception. He also tied for third in special teams tackles – a role that theoretically might be reduced if he's a starter.
The Cowboys have lost two safeties since free agency began: Church, a four-year starter who signed a reported $26 million deal with Jacksonville; and his primary backup, J.J. Wilcox, who signed with Tampa Bay.
Byron Jones will be back at free safety, but the strong safety spot is open. Heath, a four-year veteran, and 2016 sixth-round pick Kavon Frazier, are the only other returning safeties from last season.
"Obviously we feel good about what Jeff can do. At the same time, he obviously knows he's going to be coming in here and he's going to have to compete," Jones said. "We really like what we saw out of Kavon last year. That's where most of those good safeties start is start to show up on special teams, which he did. We'll bring him along, too. And we may not be through yet in free agency."[embeddedad0]
The draft is also believed to be deep at safety, too.
But part of a team's offseason roster decisions is evaluating their own players and projecting who might be able to step into larger roles.
Heath might have a chance to earn that opportunity next season.