When it comes to the position of NFL safety, the Dallas Cowboys have long been driving intoxicated and continually blown past road signs warning them to slow down and take it seriously. Dan Quinn, however, has the Dallas Cowboys taking a defensive driving course in his first few weeks as coordinator -- having replaced the spectacularly poor performing Mike Nolan after just one season -- and it's already led to the signing of not one, but two top ticket safeties and a potentially solid depth player in March. At the back end of the first official week of free agency, and now, one week later, it's Damontae Kazee reuniting with his former teammate in North Texas .
Like Neal and Kearse before him, Kazee will join the club on a one-year deal, confirming CBS Sports' initial report of a short-term deal being the likely outcome, and instantly upgrading the secondary in the process -- the deal being worth a maximum $1.123 million with just $250,000 guaranteed.
This isn't the say the Cowboys will suddenly be world-beaters at the safety position, but it is to say that, on paper, they already look precipitously better than they have in the recent past. And with none of the signings expected to alter the current plan to also draft an impact safety in late April, sources say, the Cowboys are seeing their offseason plan come together masterfully after having been pummeled by criticism for not diving into the initial free agency tsunami.
At the moment, they're in possession of the last laugh, but they're not cracking a smile. They're already back to work hoping to add a bit more before the draft, on both the defensive line and possibly in the secondary, but don't expect them to launch a hot pursuit for someone like Jarran Reed -- the interior lineman wanting out of the Seattle Seahawks -- because the reason he's heading for the exit is the absence of a long-term deal.
That won't interest a Dallas team thathas added three bodies , so Reed would have to lower his ask quite a bit to marry with the Cowboys outlook that they don't believe they need him, although they'd probably like to add him if the stars were to align contractually and as it relates to playing time (they'd be asking a player with 63 career starts in 72 games to come on down and be a rotational guy for less money than he'd earn going elsewhere).
Nothing is impossible, but I have four eyes and still can't see it happening. Especially not with other pass rush-needy teams like the Tennessee Titans likely drooling to get a shot at him, and with their wallet wide open.
In steering back to who the Cowboys have thrown their attention at, the signings of the aforementioned three safeties, one of whom also levels up the linebacker corps (Neal) while another adds to the depth at the cornerback position (Kazee) and the other positions himself to help on special teams (Kearse), gives Dallas a ton of fluidity at the second and third level of their defense. Quinn is clearly playing chess on a team long known for trying to triple jump everyone defensively, as his presence begins to seemingly establish an entirely new culture and way of thinking on the defensive side of the ball in Dallas.
On Jan. 12, CBS Sports advised to Malik Hooker, with medical evaluations looming large in discussions on whom to make an offer to -- both currently recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in 2020. In the end, after receiving the nod from the team's medical staff and front office, Kazee flew to Detroit to meet with the Lions but eventually deleted his scheduled visit there to join the Cowboys., and especially because of how they'd fit into what Quinn wants to do going forward. As referenced a moment ago, Neal will be utilized as a flex player that will move between the role of linebacker and safety, a decision that left the door open for the Cowboys to visit with both Kazee and
What also helped Kazee land the victory over Hooker was not only his familiarity with Quinn, but also his ability to drop down to nickel corner to provide depth behind Jourdan Lewis, to remain with the team in mid-March. So when team physicians gave Kazee's progress the thumbs up, the rest was simply working out the structure on a prove-it deal that could lead to a reup in 2022 -- the same applying to Neal, who himself has battled durability issues in his otherwise promising career.
The former fifth-round pick heads to Dallas with sticky hands, having been named NFL co-interceptions leader in 2018 after inhaling seven interceptions that season. For perspective, the Cowboys had nine interceptions that season -- combined.
He added another three interceptions in 2019 before seeing his 2020 season derailed by injury, but the Cowboys are placing a one-year bet he'll return to form physically and again thrive under Quinn and defensive backs coach Joe Whitt, Jr., the latter also having sway in the Cowboys being able to add both Neal and Kazee to the roster. The additions make for an intriguing combo with Donovan Wilson, the team's breakout star at safety who showed ability to both shift bone marrow with his hits and to take the ball away when given half a chance. As it stands, pre-draft, pencil Kazee in next to Wilson with Neal and Kearse operating in rotation, and yes that plan can change, if the Cowboys get a shot at one of the top safeties on their board -- e.g., Trevon Moerhig -- while they also work to determine if Reggie Robinson will be reverted back to cornerback in Year 2.
Grabbing a top-flight safety in the draft would likely be a move made after they swiped a top cornerback, currently eyeing Patrick Surtain, II and Jaycee Horn, making it no coincidence they've not thrown the same amount of resources at trying to add a big ticket veteran cornerback. Should they add one, there are no indications it will be anyone that alters their board, similar to how neither Kearse, Neal nor Kazee have/will.
Where this all leaves Xavier Woods is to-be-determined, considering he's an unrestricted free agent who has yet to put his pen to anyone's paper. Despite his regression in 2020, largely fueled by poor coaching, Woods has been a solid starter for the Cowboys who was once one of the few who would take away the ball. That said, he's also had his share of missed opportunities in that category, which makes it easy to view Kazee as an upgrade, but Woods hasn't had durability issues in his NFL career, and that simply adds to his value in Dallas.
The bottom line seems to be three-fold as it relates to Woods:
How much of a diminished role is he willing to accept in 2021? How much pay would he accept for said diminished role, and are the Cowboys willing to wait and see how their draft chips fall at the position before potentially approaching Woods with an offer? Lots to sort there, but it won't take long for the answers to reveal themselves, seeing as the calendar is about to flip to April. Free agency is a two-way street, and it's unclear if the Cowboys and Woods can now convince themselves to ride in a car that's becoming a bit crowded in the safety room (assuming draft addition(s)).
But, even if they part ways with Woods, they've already set themselves up well (both in who they've signed and how it's expected to mesh with their draft plans) to begin Quinn's regime in Dallas, as the former Legion of Boom coordinator works to expunge the team's recent record at safety; and on defense as a whole.