Star Evaluation: Figuring Out Heath’s 2019 Role  

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While free agency officially began on Wednesday, roster turnover is already happening.

However, the majority of the 2018 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they’ve been and where they’re going.

Today, we’ll continue the series with safety Jeff Heath.

What’s Been Good: The Cowboys had a good defense in 2018 and Heath was part of that, especially in the back end. Although there were some shaky moments with deep balls against Seattle in the playoffs, the Cowboys were pretty good in preventing big plays. Teamed up with Xavier Woods, Heath gave the Cowboys a solid rotation at the safety position. Heath finished with 84 tackles, which tied for third on the defense. He also tied for third-most tackles for loss with four, showing that he can also play close to the line of scrimmage.

What’s Been Bad: It wasn’t all the time, but Heath did have some struggling moments, particularly in a game against the Lions, where Golden Tate had a couple of big plays on Heath. For the most part, he was solid, but the Cowboys weren’t a great team in getting takeaways. For all the time that Heath is around the ball, you’d like to see him get more than one interception. He had just one forced fumble and no recoveries.

2018 Highlight: His best play occurred in one of the Cowboys’ best defensive games early in the season when they smashed the Jaguars, 40-7. Heath had an interception and returned it 49 yards, the longest of the season for the Cowboys. That play was a capper to an amazing day of dominance by a Cowboys defense that would turn out to be one of the NFL’s top units.

What’s Next: The Cowboys have made it clear – at least by words – that upgrading the safety position was a priority. Jerry Jones said as much this offseason but as we sit in the first day of free agency, there hasn’t been a lot of traction here. And now free agent Earl Thomas, who has been linked to the Cowboys for a full calendar year, reportedly is signing with the Ravens. If the Cowboys were to upgrade at safety, it would likely affect Heath’s starting status. Having him play more on special teams and on nickel wouldn’t be the worst move, considering how good Heath has been covering punts and kicks and playing on just about every special teams unit. But for now, he’s still one of the Cowboys’ core defensive player and will have a role in some fashion.

Jeff Heath has been a regular starter for the Cowboys for two years, but if this team finally makes an upgrade at safety, how will that affect him in 2019?

Bryan’s Bottom Line: For years, I have taken the criticism from fans of the team as a defender of Heath. As difficult as that might sound, Heath is not as poor of a player that fans make him out to be. He does have his physical limitations but he finds ways to make up for that with football intelligence and athletic ability. Heath might not make every tackle, but I would challenge you to find a defensive back on this current squad that’s made more big ones. Getting to the ball and finishing the play is important, especially at the safety position. The staff trusts him to be in the right spot, but more importantly it’s allowed Woods to develop as a deep safety. With all that being said, that would not keep me from adding another safety to this mix -- whether that’s a veteran or a draft choice. I’d go that route and look to move Jeff Heath back to the role of special teams ace and backup safety. Having him back in that role would improve a group that had its share of struggles.

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