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Offseason | 2021

Roster Reset: Safety Has Added Depth, Competition


The free agent signing period is not over by any means, but it certainly has gotten quieter both with the Cowboys and around the league. The focus is shifting now to the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 29-May 1.

While it's still possible to see more moves between now and the draft, the bulk of the player movement has already passed. With that being said, let's take a quick look at each position on the roster and see where things stand heading into the draft later this month.

Today, we focus on the safety position.

What Changed?

One of two starting jobs, for starters. Xavier Woods, a three-year starter at safety, reached a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings last week after his rookie contract with the Cowboys expired.

Taking Woods' place, potentially, is Damontae Kazee, who signed a one-year deal worth a reported $1.1 million. Kazee is recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon suffered in Week 4 with Atlanta last season, but when healthy, he was a productive player for former Falcons head coach/new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The Cowboys have also signed veteran safety Jayron Kearse to a similar one-year contract and agreed to terms with Keanu Neal, another former Falcons safety who made the 2017 Pro Bowl. Neal is expected to start off at linebacker but could pitch in at safety in Quinn's system.

What's Here?

The Cowboys got outstanding production from second-year safety Donovan Wilson once he joined the starting lineup in Week 5. Wilson finished the season with the best overall defensive grade among all Cowboys defensive backs (72.0), according to Pro Football Focus. He had PFF's third-best defensive grade among players in the regular rotation, behind only DeMarcus Lawrence (88.6) and Randy Gregory (80.5). Despite only 10 starts, Wilson ranked fourth on defense in tackles (68) and pass breakups (4), tied for third in sacks (3.5), tied for second in interceptions (2) and forced fumbles (3) and tied for first in fumble recoveries (2).

Part-time starter Darian Thompson and Steven Parker, who appeared in eight games last year mostly on special teams, are also under contract for 2021. So is last year's fourth-round draft pick Reggie Robinson, though it remains to been whether he'll play safety or move back to cornerback.

What's Next?

Speaking to reporters last month, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy emphasized the importance of creating competition on the roster. The club has done that at safety, and the NFL Draft could offer more possibilities.

Kazee, assuming his rehab continues to progress, seems like a logical fit for free safety. That's primarily where he played for Quinn the past four seasons in addition to some snaps at nickel cornerback. Before the Achilles injury, Kazee's 10 combined interceptions in 2018 and 2019 tied for the most in the NFL. The Cowboys finally began piling up takeaways in the final month of 2020 and will look to build on that next season.

Wilson's emergence lends optimism that he can be a viable starter moving forward. Kearse started 11 games for the Lions last year and figures to be a core special teams contributor even if he's not a starter in Dallas. And Neal's role is intriguing. Whether it's linebacker or safety, he's likely to be a fixture around the line of scrimmage.

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