The Safety Woody Provided

play the run if those sneaky draws were called.

"It was a convenience not to play a third corner," Woodson said. "Now (the way the Cowboys played it) you got to bring in another corner (Aaron Glenn), move (Terence) Newman into the slot, and it's obvious what you're doing."

He means, Newman is covering. Because if Newman is asked to blitz, then you got either Roy Williams or Pat Watkins or Keith Davis taking the slot receiver. Not on your life.

Woody uses the word "convenience." Me, I choose luxury, and one Jones certainly appreciated, and went out of his way financially to ensure. He never let Woodson never leave The Ranch. In fact, the owner and his head coach, Bill Parcells, tried luring Woodson out of retirement when the Cowboys sprung a leak at safety the past two years.

After all, when you are used to a certain lifestyle . . . .

And that leads us to today's Cowboys searching, as far as I'm concerned, in vain for a safety in Woodson's mold. Just don't think that cat exits, and have this distinct feeling they come around maybe once a decade or two.

So they try to do the best they can pairing someone up with Williams, who just doesn't have the speed or speedy recognition to be an asset in coverage. So far they have gone through Tony Dixon, Lynn Scott, Keith Davis, Patrick Watkins, Marcus Coleman and Tony Parrish.

That's why four-year veteran Ken Hamlin was in on Wednesday for a visit, and the club has begun contract negotiations with his agent, Kennard McGruire. He's at least been a 52-game starter at Seattle, but the Cowboys must ask themselves why the Seahawks decided to let him walk in free agency and instead sign safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell to contracts totaling nearly $15 million in guaranteed money. The reason wasn't money, or cap space.

As far as Woodson is concerned, Hamlin is just a bigger Keith Davis, a guy who can give you what you want playing in the box against the run but with limited coverage skills. Certainly not a guy who can jump into the slot in coverage nor be left in a whole lot of single-safety high coverage while Williams prowls around underneath.

For Woodson's money, Watkins is the guy.

"He has more upside than any safety out there," Woodson said. "They just need to give him time. He was a rookie, and he made some rookie mistakes."

This is not to say Watkins is the next Woodson. But let's face it, Watkins was but a fifth-round draft choice, and the Cowboys asked him to start nine games this year, along with one in the playoffs. That's a lot of responsibility for a 23-year-old kid. Woodson, a second-round pick, started two games his rookie season, and he went on to five Pro Bowl appearances.

But the Cowboys should remember they made a nine-start investment in Watkins, and really, when he regained his starting job the final three games of the season he looked much more comfortable out there and his play vastly improved.

"They just got to tell him, 'You are the quarterback of the defense and you got to become more vocal,'" Woodson said of Watkins. "It doesn't matter that Aaron Glenn is out there or Terence Newman or Roy Williams. He has to take over and line guys up.

"Roy's not going to line guys up, and he doesn't communicate much out there. They just got to tell him you got to be the leader. He's the guy with the abilities. He can run."

There, Woodson has spoken, but he's earned the right to speak on this subject. He's the reason the Cowboys are in this safety predicament.

Darn him. Why couldn't he have played for 20 years, or until the next him came around?

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