FRISCO, Texas – Never, ever – ever – has there been so much angst, so much concern over one position than the current state over the Dallas Cowboys safety position.
Safety, now, better known as the last line of defense. Not the first. Not the second. The last.
Let's try this, and certainly your list likely doesn't correspond to mine, but here comes a list of position of importance to me on an NFL football team in terms of performance and resources willing to spend in the scheme of things.
Left offensive tackle.
Not trying to minimize the importance of safety, by no means, because if you happen to land a great one, the likes of Darren Woodson or Cliff Harris or Charlie Waters, then I'm all for it.
But do you have to have the best one in the league to win games? To be successful? To win a Super Bowl? Me, I think not.
If the Cowboys don't go sign Earl Thomas, will the defense be doomed right from the start?
Could they use him? Yes, but at what cost? Not sure a safety is worth $10 million a year, especially for one currently out of work. And if Thomas doesn't win his grievance against Baltimore to recoup his $10 million base salary for this year, don't figure he'd be willing to play for like $3 million with incentives.
And again, ask yourself: Why was Baltimore so willing to let him go? Doesn't sound as if it had anything to do with talent. And just saw this quote from Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, saying, "I believe the Ravens organization stands by certain principles. If you're not part of us, we don't need you … chemistry is everything."
Isn't that what Mike McCarthy was saying right after the Ravens released the veteran safety, who now is looking to latch onto his third team in three years? When he was asked about the possibility of bringing Earl to the Cowboys?
Let me remind you once again:
"Everything's looked at, and at the end of the day I think the most important question you need to ask is: How does a player fit into the locker room?" McCarthy said. "Because to me, that's usually a huge determining factor on if it happens or if it doesn't happen, too.
And just like anything in this business, there has to be a mutual, you know, understanding to bring those things together.
"At the end of the day, as the head coach, my focus is on our current locker room."
That resonates to me.
Now then, as for today, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said the other day when quizzed about Thomas, basically it would do no good to even talk about it in public, "No, obviously won't speak to any specific players, but certainly we'll be trying to improve our football team."
And with starting free safety Xavier Woods missing practices this week with a strained groin and veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix already released, are the Cowboys in the market for some veteran safety help?
"Yes, we're going to look at all avenues as we move forward here," Jones said. "I wouldn't rule anything out. We're just down there working with Will [McClay] and our pro scouting department as well as our coaches and trying to figure out what our next steps here might be."
Jones mentioned with cuts to 53 due in at 3 p.m. Saturday, two priorities the Cowboys will be scouring the waiver wire for are a veteran safety and an offensive tackle, saying of the safety position, "If we can find a veteran guy who might can help back there early on while some of these young guys, some of these flex guys are coming along, then that would be good as well."
They like Darian Thompson. They like what they've seen so far of veteran cornerback Daryl Worley getting looks back there. Also, last year's sixth-round pick Donovan Wilson and this year's fourth-rounder Reggie Robinson.
And just maybe the Baltimore defensive back the Cowboys are interested in might not be Thomas but his former Ravens teammate Brandon Carr, who visited with the Cowboys on Friday. Carr, who spent five seasons with the Cowboys (2012-16) and the past three with the Ravens, became an unrestricted free agent now 34 on March 18 when Baltimore declined his option to put $6 million back into the salary cap. Carr has started has started 192 consecutive games, and this past season starting all 16, playing either outside corner, slot corner and then moved to safety later in the season for the Ravens, playing 76 percent of the defensive snaps.
Might be the veteran safety/corner Stephen Jones was referring to.
But to me, of bigger concern might be the tackle position. Take Thursday's practice. With La'el Collins resting his back issue, Cam Erving is expected to be the swing tackle. That's what he was signed for. But then it was like, with him out there, what if there is another injury to a tackle? Who's next up?
Well, good question, since potential candidate Mitch Hyatt has torn his ACL, and will undergo season-ending surgery. Another candidate would be Brandon Knight. But sounds as if he's got an injury issue, might be an IR candidate. After that, the only other tackle on the current roster is Texas Tech rookie Terence Steele.
Help is needed.
Plus, let the Clinton-Dix deal be a cautionary tale. Beware the name player. Just because he's a name you're familiar with doesn't mean the guy is the same player he used to be. And if paying attention, the Cowboys, too, had to be somewhat skeptical of Clinton-Dix back on March 23 when they signed him to a very conservative contract, one-year. And while they paid him a $1.25 million signing bonus, they only guaranteed him $100,000 of his $2.25 million base salary. The rest had to do with bonuses.
As I wrote back then of the move with Clinton-Dix, Nothing long-term, extravagant about that, and the guarantees certainly don't automatically guarantee him a starting position.
So by cutting Clinton-Dix on Thursday, the Cowboys incurred a $2.25 million cap hit, but did recoup $1.5 million between the remaining base salary and some per-game incentives.
The Cowboys gave McCarthy's former safety in Green Bay every chance to crack the starting lineup. He began training camp working with the first team alongside Woods at safety. But not far in, Thompson overtook him, Clinton-Dix working second team. And even with Woods nursing a strained groin this week and the Cowboys moving Clinton-Dix back to the first unit, the 27-year-old safety obviously wasn't impressive enough to grab a spot on the 53-man roster.
No way were the Cowboys going to keep a veteran safety as a backup without special teams capabilities.
"Felt like at the end of the day, for what we're trying to get done, that we needed to go in a different direction," Jones said. "Like I said, he's a class act all the way. Just unfortunate it didn't work out. And as I always say, we're always in the market 365 days a year to improve this football team, and that's what we'll continue to do."
While at the same time, keeping an eye on the waiver wire, possibly entering into the trade market, and continuing to whittle down this roster to the required maximum of 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday.
Geesh, wonder what Jeff Heath is doing today?
Oh, that's right, he signed a free-agent contract with the Raiders, and guess what the Raiders just did? They just cut the guy who had been working with their first unit, veteran safety Demarious Randall, a former, and get this, first-round pick of the Packers in 2015. And he was guaranteed $1.5 million.
And guess who had been considered the Raiders' third safety, locked in with a bunch of young guys for depth. That's right, uh, Heath. Now, wouldn't that be something with the Cowboys looking for veteran help.
So, as I like to say this weird year, with the season opener in L.A. just eight days away, we'll see.