Why Earl Thomas is still a match for the Dallas Cowboys

Free safety Earl Thomas Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Free safety Earl Thomas Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

This upcoming free agency period, Earl Thomas is being, once again, heavily linked to the Dallas Cowboys and it should be no surprise why…

For my money, Earl Thomas is the best safety in the game. Period. There are those out there trying to discredit his game because they don’t want the Dallas Cowboys to sign him. Not wanting to use cap space on him is acceptable, but slandering his game isn’t. That’s because Earl is still a perfect match for the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s OK to love Earl Thomas’ game and still NOT WANT to sign him at the same time. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Also not mutually exclusive: Xavier Woods and Earl Thomas as the starting safeties. But we’ll get to that…

The point of this article isn’t to necessarily convince Cowboys Nation they need Earl Thomas in their life, Rather it’s to illustrate how Thomas fits and why the Dallas Cowboys love him so dang much. But first,

Age and Injury Questions

Earl Thomas is 29-years-old. Not 31. Not 30. He’ll be 30 by the time the 2019 season rolls around but he’s not there yet. It’s a point that needs to be made because for over a year people have been exaggerating his age that even prominent national media are getting it wrong more often than they’re getting it right.

Injuries are also a popular concern. They’ve prematurely ended two of Thomas’ last three seasons, limiting him to only 11 games in 2016 and four games in 2018. The temptation is there to call this sudden proneness to injury a sign of his decline, but that may be reading too much into it.

Soft tissue injuries, back problems, and joint issues are often associated with age-related decline in professional athletes . But Thomas’ two big injuries have not been muscle related, but rather bone breaks. While bone breaks are indeed more common to the aged, it’s not usually something that becomes an issue until much, much later in years (bone density in men breaks down slowly once they pass middle age). As such, Thomas’ bone breaks are more likely the result of bad luck than physical breakdown.

Outside of those two injuries, Thomas has only missed two games in his career. Sure, it’s possible more injuries are on the horizon, but in all likelihood, his bone breaks have little to no relation to being 29-years-old. If he was having repeated hamstring issues, it would be a whole different story.

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How Good is Earl?

By now, everyone knows Earl Thomas’ legacy. He’s been the best safety over the last decade. He seems a lock to get his own ticket to the Hall of Fame when all is said and done. But this isn’t about Earl’s total career – it’s about what he is right now.

And right now Earl Thomas is still the NFL’s best safety. Playing free safety in the single high role, he manned the most difficult safety position, in the most difficult coverage, and still came out as Pro Football Focus’ best safety last season.

Thomas scored most recently as the best in coverage (the primary role of the single high safety), and second in run support (a rarity for a free safety of his range).

Some may question if he can bounce back from this injury and be the same man. I’d point to the last time Thomas broke his leg – he came back and ranked in PFF’s top-5 and even made the Pro Bowl. And given the most recent of circumstances, you’d expect him to be extra motivated to bounce back this season.

Perfect fit

The Dallas Cowboys run basically the same defense as Seattle. Seattle’s Legion of Boom was built on the back of single high coverage. And Earl Thomas is the player that makes it all happen. In this Cover-3 scheme, Thomas is tasked with guarding the largest third of the field (Between the numbers) from about the first down marker all the way to the end zone.

Finding a safety with that kind of range is rare. Thomas often lines up within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage, impacting the short middle, without giving up big plays over the top. No one cheats up close with this level of effectiveness like Earl.

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Ever since Rod Marinelli came to Dallas he’s been running this coverage. Whether it was J.J. Wilcox (whose range was so poor he had to line up 30-yards deep) or Xavier Woods (who played more moderately 20-yards off), the Cowboys have struggled using the single high, full-time.

Pete Carroll’s Seattle coverage, later learned by Kris Richard, is still Dallas’ preferred coverage in 2019 because it allows the LBs to be bigger playmakers in the passing game on inside routes, but it’s imperative they have a reliable safety to trust on the back-end.

We dove into Xavier Woods’ play last season on Friday. We came to the conclusion, based on Woods’ all-around game, he could play either safety position.  Because of this, signing Thomas wouldn’t mean Woods gets demoted. It would likely mean Heath gets benched while Woods shifts to the other safety role Cam Chancellor made famous in Seattle (again, not your typical SS role because it also requires man coverage skills from in the box).

Jeff Heath wouldn’t get banished to the bench completely (to the chagrin of many) since Dallas also likes to employ a Big Nickel package from time to time that uses three safeties at the same time.

Next. Complete Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft: 2/10 edition. dark

If Earl Thomas was signed, he’d drastically upgrade the free safety position for the defense. If Xavier Woods moved to the other safety spot, he’d represent a nice upgrade over Jeff Heath as well. In other words, signing a proven free safety like Earl Thomas upgrades both safety positions…perhaps I really was trying to convince Cowboys Nation they need Earl in their life after all. Oh well.

  • Published on 02/13/2019 at 13:01 PM
  • Last updated at 02/13/2019 at 14:42 PM