When the Dallas Cowboys failed to make the playoffs this season, there was no shortage of people to blame, but Alan Ball received more criticism than any other Cowboy, with the possible exception of Terence Newman. Alan ball, having played five seasons as a Cowboy, is now a free agent.
Alan Ball was drafted in the 7th round of the 2007 NFL draft as a CB out of Illinois. Ball did not see significant playing time as a Cowboy until the 2010 season when he started all 16 games at safety. The experiment at the safety position was less than a success, so last season Ball returned to his position as a 4th or 5th corner behind Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman, and Orlando Scandrick. Ball was forced to start 2 games last season due to injuries.
The general consensus in the media, on the blogs, in the comments sections, and by the water cooler is that Alan Ball was a liability in coverage, and the Cowboys should be happy that his contract has expired. If one searches the internet, it is practically impossible to find anyone who thinks the Cowboys should, or will, re-sign him.
It would not be shocking if Alan Ball remained a Cowboy for the 2012 season. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Like always, the Cowboys need depth at CB. Terence Newman is likely to be cut, so they have Mike Jenkins penciled in as one starter, and Scandrick as the 3rd starter in the slot. That means they need at least one free agent or early round rookie to come in and start. If Jerry Jones does sign a CB capable of starting, there will be very little money leftover for depth in the secondary.
For depth, they currently have 3 CB’s under contract who will compete in Training Camp for a spot on the Roster:
Mario Butler, 6-1, 188 lbs., undrafted free agent from Georgia Tech. He has never played a snap in a real NFL game.
Justin Taplin-Ross, 6-3, 214lbs, undrafted free agent from Utah. He has never played a snap in a real NFL game.
While both of these players have good size and therefore people are excited about their potential development, neither of them are guaranteed to make the final roster next year.
CJ. Wilson, 6-1, 195 lbs., Baylor. He was drafted in the 7th Round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. He has never started an NFL game, and he has never even played in more than 8 games in a season.
When considering the need for depth behind the starting 3 CB’s (Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and a free agent or draft choice), remember that Jenkins has a bit of a history with injuries, so it would not be a huge surprise if he couldn’t start all 16 games. Scandrick also missed a few games with injuries last season. (The good news is that Brandon Carr has started all 16 games in all four seasons in the NFL.)
Having Alan Ball as the 4th or 5th CB would provide time for Mario Butler and/or Justin Taplin-Ross to develop. If nothing else, Ball would provide decent competition for younger players in Training Camp. Of course, everyone would be hoping that one or both the rookies would beat Alan Ball out of his spot, for they would be cheaper and have much bigger .up-sides’.
2. Alan Ball has a lot of game experience, and he knows Rob Ryan’s complicated defense.
3. Alan Ball could probably be signed for a very reasonable salary. Walter Football ranks him as the 29th best free agent CB out of a group of 59 free agents, so there are worse options.
4. Alan Ball is versatile; he could fill in at safety in an emergency.
5. The most convincing fact was saved for last: Alan Ball is a phenomenal tackler. In fact, Alan Ball is one of the best tackling CB’s in the entire NFL. The guys at ProFootballFocus looked at every CB in the NFL who attempted at least 25 attempted tackles in run support. In 2011, Alan Ball’s tackling efficiency was the 2nd best in the NFL. They analysed the tackling efficiency of over 100 CB’s; Alan Ball was the second best.
In addition to the need for experienced depth in the secondary and the attractive price of Alan Ball, having a player who can play both CB and safety, and who is an excellent tackler when providing run support, seems like a player who could be useful to a Defensive Coordinator like Rob Ryan.
Don’t be shocked if Alan Ball goes to the 2012 NFL Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys. You have been warned.
On an almost unrelated issue, the interesting thing about the ProFootballFocus’s examination of CB’s tackling efficiency in run support, was that many of the NFL’s ‘elite’ corners are in the bottom 20 (in a group of over 100).
Take a look at some of the big names (and highly paid) players that are clustered at the bottom.
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Table taken from ProFootballFocus.com. Read the entire article here.