As you likely already know, safety Danny McCray has re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys—it's not like the restricted free agent had much choice in the matter. Since no other team seemed excited about adding the undrafted, fourth-year veteran out of LSU, McCray signed his $1.3 million tender last Friday.
This move should not come as much of a surprise, especially with strong safety Barry Church recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury early last season.
But the re-signing of McCray likely changes little concerning the depth chart or Dallas' draft board heading into this week's NFL draft beginning Thursday night. But it is good to know that there's help at strong safety should incumbent starter Church not return to form. McCray was second on the team in tackles last season with 87, plus one tackle for a loss. His special teams value isn't a question either.
Dallas, as of right now, has five players on the depth chart listed at safety. Church and McCray are the strong safeties while Matt Johnson, Micah Pellerin and veteran Will Allen serve as the free safeties.
But while the depth chart seems rather well-stocked at the position, a starting free safety is still unidentified. Presumably second-year veteran Johnson's position to lose, speculation is still plentiful that the Cowboys will draft a safety with one of their first few selections once the draft begins.
If Dallas knew what they had in fourth-round pick Johnson, a rookie last season that never got on the field due to injuries, the strategy could be quite different from what it might be now. I suppose the same could be said of Pellerin, a second-year veteran out of Hampton.
With Allen, Dallas certainly has depth and experience but still not a proven starter or difference-maker at free safety. Allen has started all of 33 games in his six-year career.
McCray and Church are the main reasons I don't believe that Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro is as much of an interest to the Cowboys as some seem to think. Yes, safety Gerald Sensabaugh was released in early March as Dallas' only proven commodity at free safety, but that doesn't mean there's panic within the organization regarding his former position. In fact, it means the opposite.
Since Vaccaro projects as more of a strong safety whose best skills are seen closer to the line of scrimmage, it would seem a little redundant to add a third strong safety candidate to the Dallas roster. Further, it's not like Vaccaro possesses the speed desired for a ball-hawking free safety, someone likely required for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's ''Tampa 2'' coverages that generally keep safeties deep.
Probably the main players to be aware of heading into the draft are Johnson and Pellerin, two guys without a track record but also prospects that the Cowboys know much better than we do—especially Johnson.
I see no reason that the Cowboys would reach for a safety in a coming draft that is pretty deep at the position. They certainly could take that route, but addressing the secondary for a second straight season would seem pretty fruitless given the age of defensive linemen like Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Each of those players are 29 years old or more and each is being asked to transition to Kiffin's 4-3 alignment upfront.
And remember that McCray had a career best in tackles not just because of more playing time. On the contrary, the Cowboys, under former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, generally failed in stopping the run. Never was this more evident than in last year's season-ending loss to the Redskins in Washington with the NFC East division title on the line. Dallas allowed rookie running back Alfred Morris to gain exactly 200 yards on the ground on a staggering 33 carries. Fellow rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III passed for precisely 100 yards on 50% completions—on one leg mind you.
Talk about embarrassing.
No, the Cowboys aren't hurting at free safety but expect a third- or fourth-round selection, or later, to provide some depth. It's foolish to think that just because other mock drafts and numerous big boards say so, that Dallas doesn't already know what direction they intend to go with a player like Johnson, for example—he's essentially like a draft pick already chosen this year.
I guess I focus on Johnson as much as I do because I'm aware that he was one of two fourth-round players chosen by the Cowboys in the 2012 draft. Remember that Dallas lost their selection in Round 2 after trading up in the first round for cornerback Morris Claiborne.
The fourth player chosen in any draft is going to get the opportunity to play—and Johnson definitely will.
Is Johnson a sure bet to start at free safety in 2013?
But the same can be said of any rookie safety the Cowboys might select early in the 2013 NFL draft.
But for now, McCray would seem to ease things concerning the strong safety position for 2013.