(Editor's Note: With the offseason program in the rearview mirror, it's time to look ahead. As part of the preparation for training camp, this series will introduce 25 key players who are new to the Cowboys' roster, rookies and veterans alike. The series continues today with safety Damontae Kazee.)
How He Got Here: The Cowboys did some extra homework when it came time to sign a safety this spring.
It has become common practice to sign established free agents sight-unseen at the start of the league year. Given the amount of money at stake and the competition to sign players, teams and free agents will often agree to new deals without any type of in-person contact.
That wasn't the case during the second week of free agency, when the Cowboys went looking for a discount at the safety spot. They brought in a duo of well-known but often injured playmakers, inviting both Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker to their facility for visits.
Neither player would've needed a visit with a better run of health. Hooker is a former first-round pick, while Kazee is a three-year starter with 10 career interceptions. The problem is that both were coming off one of the most dreaded injuries in football, a torn Achilles.
After visiting with both, the Cowboys felt more comfortable offering a contract to Kazee. The 28-year old eventually signed on under a bit of a prove-it deal – a one-year, $1.1 million contract that will allow him to test free agency again next year if he is able to successfully bounce back from his injury.
What's Next: The good news is that Kazee has already hit one of the biggest milestones of the year.
Given that he tore his Achilles on Oct. 5, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the Cowboys ease him into the action. But when OTAs ramped up in mid-May, there he was – sporting his new No. 35 jersey and working through the entirety of practice.
Achilles injuries are noted for their lengthy recovery times, so that's a heck of an encouraging development. And by the time Kazee gets to training camp in late July, he'll be almost 10 months removed from the injury. It certainly looks like it's "all systems go" for the fifth-year pro.
That's great news for the Cowboys, who are a bit thin at safety. Kazee has 34 career starts to his name, and his best professional season came in 2018, when he was playing as the free safety in Dan Quinn's defense in Atlanta. That season saw him make 82 tackles to go with a whopping seven interceptions.
If he can even come close to replicating those numbers in 2021, it'd be far and away the best performance from a Cowboys safety in recent memory.
Bet You Didn't Know: Kazee is the prohibitive favorite to win the Cowboys' free safety job, but he actually started his career as a cornerback.
Kazee was a three-year starter at corner during his career at San Diego State, and the Falcons initially made him a fifth-round pick to play nickel back. That said, it didn't take long for Quinn to transition him to safety, as he made the move during his rookie training camp.
Interestingly enough, he got his first real shot at a starting role because of an injury to fellow Falcons safety Keanu Neal – who is now once again his teammate in Dallas.
Quotable: "As you know, I did come from the same team as Coach Quinn, so I know he's a player coach. And I know he looks for dogs. He wants people running to the ball every play, everything. And that's one reason why I came here, you know – a coach that I can fight for like that, I'm going to give him my all." – Damontae Kazee