Dallas Cowboys: How Jayron Kearse became Dan Quinn’s ‘master key’

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Free agency is notoriously underwhelming for Dallas Cowboys fans. Stephen Jones, thrift shopper extraordinaire, like to bargain hunt after the market has cooled. He’s generally uninterested in the big names that dominate the headlines and prefers to use free agency to find more blue-collar-types and reclamation projects.

So when the Dallas Cowboys announced they were signing veteran safety Jayron Kearse last spring fans erupted with a “ummmmm, who now?” Names like Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, and Malik Hooker were exciting the fanbase. Kearse? not so much.

Boy were we wrong.

Jayron Kearse silenced his critics and became a key player on this Dallas Cowboys defense in multiple ways

When I first heard Kearse’s name I did what I always do – I went to the All-22. The five-year veteran defensive back had film from Detroit and Minnesota, but neither of which was particularly great. The takeaway I left with was his size (6-4, 215lbs) and his ability to play in a Cover 2 were positives and that was about it. The Dallas Cowboys were lacking in both of those areas, so he added value.

Dallas had long been a single high safety defense so they were largely devoid of split safety types. They were also a vertically challenged bunch who fell on the wrong side of the 6-foot Mendoza line. But even recognizing that, I gave Kearse just a 50/50 shot at making the final 53-man roster.

Jayron Kearse silenced critics on Day 1. Kearse not only played the best football of his career this season but he immediately established himself as a leader and key part of this Dallas Cowboys defensive turnaround.

Kearse played 1,013 snaps for the Cowboys last year, compiling 101 tackles and 6 QB hits. He played free safety, box safety, slot CB, boundary CB, special teams, and even up on the D-line itself. He was Dan Quinn’s master key that could be used darn near anywhere on the defense.

Jayron Kearse wasn’t just an emotional leader for the Cowboys defense, but he was also a technical leader. The veteran understood the defense as good as anyone and raised the overall IQ of the defense when he was on the field.

Safeties like Kazee, Donovan Wilson, and Hooker all missed time last season but Kearse stood strong. When Dallas lost nearly all linebacker depth it was Kearse who Dan Quinn leaned on. Kearse helped rush the passer, stop the run, cover out of the backfield….he even lined up wide.

When players started to drop (and they always do) Kearse covered the holes. I honestly can’t remember a time Dallas had such a universal defensive player like Kearse. He raised the floor across the board.

Jayron Kearse may never get those Pro Bowl nods that Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs seem guaranteed to get, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a cornerstone player. Spotrac doesn’t have an estimated value for his next deal, perhaps because he’s so unique. But it’s pretty darn imperative the Dallas Cowboys re-sign the soon-to-be 28-year-old because he’s a big part of this defense and arguably the top stabilizer.

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If Kearse isn’t my top free agent to re-sign he’s definitely my second. He’s that important to this defense.