Dallas Cowboys: The most impactful free agent position to target in 2021

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s one particular position the Dallas Cowboys repeatedly neglect even though it’s one of the most impactful positions on the field. It’s a position that proves to be one of the hardest to find and replace. And oddly enough, it’s a position that’s one of the most affordable.

The position is safety

Based on wins above replacement models (WAR), which show how many wins a top-10 player provides over his average replacement level counterparts, safeties are the third most irreplaceable position in the NFL, coming in right behind quarterback and receiver, respectively.

Safeties are often tasked with being the captains of the secondary and the last line of defense in just about every way. Good ones rarely rotate off the field and are often involved in every defensive snap, regardless of circumstance.

Safety could be the most impactful position to target for the Dallas Cowboys

With a WAR of .6039 safety is over twice as irreplaceable as both linebackers and defensive linemen, yet it’s only paid a fraction of the cost. In league pay scales the average top-10 SAF costs just under $13 million per season. Compare that to defensive tackles who are over $17 million and defensive ends who are nearly $19 million, and you have a relative steal at the safety position.

The cost/benefit of a top-10 safety is unrivaled. They are tops in WAR value and at the bottom in pay. Teams which have a top-10 safety have a decided advantage both on the field and on the books. Yet, the Dallas Cowboys generally remain uninterested.

The cost/benefit of a good safety is unrivaled. They are tops in WAR value and at the bottom in pay.

For years Dallas has gone cheap at the safety position, opting to fill it with fringe roster guys, late round long-shots, and free agent nomads. While they’ve had a little success with Day 3 draft picks like Xavier Woods and Donovan Wilson, they’ve largely struck out, leading to a major missed opportunity at one of the league’s most underrated positions.

Free agency features some intriguing options at safety. The talent pool declined when multiple teams chose to use the franchise tag on their stars (clearly noticing the value to be had) but top end free agents like Anthony Harris and John Johnson are going to hit the market.

Harris, 29, and Johnson, 26, represent two of the most complete safeties in the class. Both are expected to demand top-of-the-market prices but both offer extra value playing one of the most impactful and lowest paid fulltime positions in football.

More from Dallas Cowboys

If the Dallas Cowboys are ever to break the bank at safety, this is the year to do it. Most of the NFL has salary cap issues making overall free agent demand abnormally low this year. Dallas is expected to lose Xavier Woods in free agency, creating a clear opening on the roster. And without any young developing talent waiting in the wings, the potential impact of adding an elite veteran safety is at its peak on a team like the Dallas Cowboys.

Will this be the year Stephen Jones changes his approach and goes big in free agency? Probably not. Is this the year they finally address the safety position with top-end talent. Also unlikely.

But the talent is there and value is apparent. The Dallas Cowboys are missing out on huge opportunity by not seeking out a top safety because they are extremely impactful, very hard to replace (WAR), and severely underpaid.

Related Story. Understanding positional value in the NFL. light

dark. Next. Cowboys indicate they're thinking offense with Pick 10 in the Draft

This isn’t to say Dallas can afford to ignore DT but as far as impact and value, safety is the position that could make the biggest difference.