FRISCO, Texas – If you think competition concerns Jeff Heath, think again.
The veteran safety’s career has been defined by defiance of the NFL odds, starting in 2013 as a rookie free agent out of tiny Saginaw Valley State.
“People forget how I got into this league. I was an undrafted player. I had one scholarship out of high school – one scholarship offer,” he said at the Cowboys’ annual Reliant Home Run Derby. I’ve never been handed anything in my entire life. And every year I’ve been in the NFL, I’ve had to earn everything I’ve gotten.
“So this year is no different. I kind of answer that question every year the same way, but I’m just going to keep giving you guys the same answer.”
The Cowboys have added depth at the strong safety spot this offseason. In March they signed eighth-year veteran George Iloka, a former starter in Cincinnati who can play either safety position, to a one-year deal. In April they drafted Texas A&M standout Donovan Wilson in the sixth round.
But until further notice, Heath once again projects as a starter beside third-year vet Xavier Woods. Earlier this month, Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said the team is comfortable with their safety depth.
“I just think we’ve got a good situation,” Jones said.
Indeed, Heath has been a big part of the defense’s improvement the last few years. A core special teams contributor since his rookie year, he emerged as a defensive starter in 2017.
He has led the Cowboys in interceptions (7) the past four seasons, including one against Aaron Rodgers in the 2016 divisional-round playoff loss to Green Bay. He has made winning plays in critical moments, like the forced touchback against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr that kept the Cowboys’ playoff hopes alive two years ago.
The Cowboys value Heath’s toughness and experience. But those outside questions about his role? He’ll continue to use them as fuel.
“When you’re an undrafted player you have a chip on your shoulder no matter what. And if you lose that chip, that’s when you start messing up,” he said. “I’m comfortable in that situation. I understand how this business is. They’re always looking to replace you. So I’m really just going to continue doing what I’ve been doing.”