FRISCO, Texas — It's the time of year for a good self-scout.
As the Cowboys process a disappointing end to 2021, it prompts a lot of speculation about what lies ahead in 2022. This series looks to present, and hopefully answer, a lot of questions about what this team will look like in the coming year.
Earlier this week, we started this preview with a look at Jayron Kearse's future. We'll continue that by looking at the rest of the depth chart – both the remaining free agents, and the young players that remain on the roster.
How Will The Cowboys Fill Out The Safety Depth Chart?
As has been noted, Jayron Kearse is the biggest piece of this puzzle. He's one of the Cowboys' most notable free agents, and it's a good bet they'll have to sweat out Kearse testing the open market before they learn whether they'll have a chance to re-sign him.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, this probably isn't a domino situation. While Kearse commands the lion's share of the attention, the Cowboys have two other free agent safeties who shouldn't cost too much to re-sign.
Ironically, Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker both garnered more headlines than Kearse when they all signed in Dallas last year. Kazee signed a small, one-year deal to reunite with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in the spring. His seven-interception 2018 season as a safety for Quinn's Falcons made him an intriguing name in last year's free agency haul.
Hooker made an even bigger stir when he signed during training camp, largely because of the natural ability that made him the No. 15 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Given the size of the investment – a grand total of $877,500 in guarantees, for both players – it's fair to say both signings were a big success.
Kazee was ready for the offseason program despite suffering an Achilles tear the previous October, and he managed to start 15 of 17 games, tallying 52 tackles and two interceptions playing as Kearse's primary partner in the secondary.
Hooker suffered his own Achilles tear and needed a bit longer to rehab. But after being used sparingly to start the season, he carved out a role for himself as a third safety in certain sub-packages. Despite the limited role, he finished with 44 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception despite playing just 39% of the snaps.
Considering the (somewhat) diminished value of the position, not to mention the safety market in 2022, the early guess is that neither guy will be overly expensive in free agency. It's at least realistic to think that both players could be back, if that's what the front office wants.
If there's a choice between the two, however, it's easy to think Hooker has a brighter long-term future. Quickly approaching his 26th birthday, he's roughly three years younger than Kazee – and, again, has the 6'2 frame and natural ability that made him a first-round draft pick. With his 2021 production curtailed by a smaller role, he's also likely to re-sign for a figure that fits with the Cowboys' modest free agency goals.
In a perfect world, the Cowboys can come to terms with two of the three free agents. That would replenish the top of the depth chart, to go along with a group that still includes youngsters Israel Mukuamu and Tyler Coyle, both of whom kicked around the roster as rookies.
Donovan Wilson is also an interesting part of this. The 2019 draft pick was nagged by injuries last season, spending a stint on injured reserve and appearing in just nine games. Wilson has made 13 career starts and has 102 career tackles. Perhaps it's possible he could get a shot to regain a starting role if free agency doesn't go the way the front office would prefer.