While free agency officially begins in March, roster turnover isn't too far away. The Cowboys will indeed add and presumably release players, along with letting some go without a new contract.
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.
Views of #38 Strong Safety Jeff Heath from the 2017-18 Regular Season.
What's Been Good:
For all the criticism he might draw, it's hard to argue against Jeff Heath's work ethic. The former undrafted free agent was promoted in 2017, from special teams ace and spot safety, to starter. Despite the new job description, he didn't let go of his old duties – and that showed up in his workload. Heath was on the field for 880 defensive snaps this year, leading the defense , and still found the time to play 60 percent of the Cowboys' special teams snaps. There's no arguing his productivity, either, Heath finished fourth on the team in tackles, with 81. He also led the team in interceptions with three, marking the third-straight year he has at least tied for the team lead. Heath also found time to record eight special teams tackles. So yes, suffice to say he was plenty productive in 2017.
What's Been Bad:
There's no denying Heath's work ethic or his penchant for making plays – we'll get to that in the next section. However, it's also fair to say that the Cowboys' safety position has not always been reliable, particularly against the pass. While the Dallas defense was solid for the most part in 2017, there was a penchant for the explosive play. The second half against the Los Angeles Rams comes to mind, as Jared Goff and Todd Gurley sliced through the Cowboys' secondary en route to 35 total points. This isn't just a criticism of Heath, so much as the entire Dallas secondary, but the Cowboys just haven't been able to find a trustworthy option to limit big plays on the back end.
This one is a no-brainer, as Heath made one of the most impressive plays in recent memory – let alone the 2017 season. With the Cowboys clinging to a 20-17 lead in Oakland, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had driven his offense down to the Dallas 8-yard line with 39 seconds remaining. The Raiders had a timeout remaining and just eight yards separating them from the end zone. At the very least, overtime seemed like a certainty – if not an outright Raiders win. Instead, Heath intervened. Facing a 3rd-and-3, Carr was flushed from the pocket by DeMarcus Lawrence and Taco Charlton. He pump-faked his way past the line of scrimmage, and dove for the near pylon. Coming from the middle of the end zone, Heath managed to push Carr out of bounds – and poked the ball out of his hand in the process. The fumble bounced through the corner of the end zone, giving the ball over the Cowboys. Had Carr gained another few inches, he'd have scored a game-clinching touchdown. Instead, Heath kept the Cowboys' season alive for another week, setting up a dramatic game against Seattle with Ezekiel Elliott returning to the lineup.
It's hard to say what 2018 is going to bring for the entire Dallas secondary, but Heath seems poised to continue in his role as a starter. He has two years remaining on the contract extension he signed in 2016, and he was easily one of the Cowboys' most productive defenders. That said, it's fair to say this defense could stand to upgrade its overall production at the safety spot. Will 2018 see Heath and Byron Jones starting alongside each other again? Will the Cowboys bring in some new blood – be it a free agent or a draft pick? Are any position changes coming in the next few months? It's hard to say. One way or another, you can't deny Heath's drive – not to mention his knack for making plays. That's why it's a safe bet that he'll once again be a key piece to the Cowboys' secondary next season.