Dallas Cowboys Free Agency: Safety Options
The last two free-agent safeties the Cowboys signed were released by the end of training camp. Considering how good the safety talent turned out the previous two seasons, it really puts into question just how good the original acquisitions were in the first place. That wouldn’t be the case if Malik Hooker joined the team.
Hooker played two games last season before tearing his Achilles tendon continuing an unfortunate trend of injuries and/or inconsistent play. Hooker was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft because of his range. His instincts were always a bit quicker than others and he had the athleticism to roam as the single high safety and make plays all over the field.
He brought some of that fun to Indianapolis grabbing seven interceptions and defending 11 passes in 36 games but it was clear he didn’t always trust what he was seeing. His HC Frank Reich felt it was finally coming together for the fourth-year pro before his season-ending injury.
Now with a torn ACL and torn Achilles in the medical files, the ample athleticism he displayed in college likely doesn’t exist in such a capacity. However, likely will still be athletic enough to roam as a center fielder in Quinn’s Cover 1/Cover 3 defense if he can display the good mental processing and instincts he showed in college.
The Cowboys would once again be taking a chance on an inexpensive safety, but unlike the previous two acquisitions, it is pretty clear that Hooker’s best football is in front of him and not behind him. The Cowboys have previously allowed players to realize their potential to some degree with players like Rolando McClain, Henry Milton, George Selvie, Robert Quinn, and Antwaun Woods. (Robert Quinn had some dominant years in St. Louis but the trade to Dallas put him back on the map as a pass rusher)
Each of these players had experienced some type of setback early in their careers, but when they came to Dallas and had the opportunity, they were able to make the most of it. The same could happen to Hooker who would now have the benefit of the Dallas Cowboys medical staff and a defensive coordinator that ran something similar to what he did in Columbus.
For once, the Cowboys might actually luck into an inexpensive safety because they chose the right one.
This is merely a contingency plan. Malik Hooker should be the first priority at safety purely for his ball-hawking ability, but if he ends up being a popular free agent name Neal should be next to call. Neal has also had his fair share of injuries but was able to play 15 games last season after having to end his 2018 and 2019 seasons end early due to season-ending injuries.
Neal plays far more in the box than Hooker ever did. He displays the versatility to play back in addition to the box. This could be valuable as it allows the Cowboys to switch between him and Donovan Wilson. That is the type of versatility the front office likes in their safeties, but chasing that prototype in the past has resulted in Xavier Woods starting more than he probably should have and in areas of the field he should stay away from.
Neal is a former player of Dan Quinn’s from his time in Atlanta. This chemistry and experience could be valuable in helping order things on the back end of a young secondary. He likely also wouldn’t be as highly sought-after as players like Anthony Harris, Justin Simmons, and Neal’s teammate Ricardo Allen.
Neal would come to Dallas in a similar situation to that of Malik Hooker’s; a player who has shown flashes of brilliance, but due to injury hasn’t been able to maintain his consistency. Both players are looking to rebound their careers and Neal could do that with a coach that helped with his early stages of development.