Dallas Cowboys Insider
I’m not going to apologize for taking inspiration from my Twitter timeline. It’s the deadest month of the football calendar, and the Dallas Cowboys are (mercifully) staying out of the offseason headlines. For three more weeks until they report to training camp, there’s not much to do but idly speculate — and argue.
Thus, my surprised reaction when I saw this graphic come across my screen over the holiday weekend.
I don’t begrudge the idea that Philadelphia and San Francisco deserve to dominate an exercise like this. They were the best two teams in the NFC last season, and they boast two of the best rosters in the league heading into 2023.
As someone who gets paid primarily to analyze the Dallas Cowboys, though, I can’t help but take issue with the idea that another team employs the best secondary in the conference.
This isn’t an issue with the Eagles’ cornerbacks, mind you. Against all odds, Philadelphia managed to bring both Darius Slay and James Bradberry back, giving them one of the best corner tandems in the league. Avonte Maddox has also been a quality slot corner for several years.
The problem is that the term “secondary” comprises five or six defensive backs, including safeties — a position group that was decimated by free agency in Philadelphia. C.J. Gardner Johnson, who tied for the league lead in interceptions, is in Detroit after failing to get the offer he was seeking from the Eagles. Fellow starter Marcus Epps followed Jonathan Gannon to Arizona.
The Eagles did sign five-year veteran Terrell Edmunds to a stop-gap contract. Beyond that, they have 11 career starts between K’Von Wallace, Reed Blankenship and rookie Sydney Brown. On a roster rife with playmakers, safety stands next to linebacker as one the Eagles’ biggest question marks. Contrast that with the Cowboys, who just might be fielding their best secondary since Deion Sanders and Darren Woodson still played in Dallas.
[Cowboys positional group rankings: Defense leads the way; where are they weak?]
Cornerback speaks for itself, as the Cowboys traded for a two-time All-Pro in Stephon Gilmore to partner with Trevon Diggs, whose 17 interceptions over the last three seasons leads the NFL. The trade gives them a duo of All-Pro corners, matching Miami’s pair of Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard — as well as Slay and Bradberry in Philadelphia. At slot cornerback, they return 43-game starter Jourdan Lewis along with DaRon Bland, who finished with five interceptions during his rookie year.
This year’s Dallas Cowboys defense will be the best in the NFL.” – Skip Bayless
But the real difference is at safety more so than cornerback. Whereas the Eagles lost their experience at the position this spring, the Cowboys miraculously managed to retain theirs. Despite using their franchise tag on Tony Pollard, the Cowboys kept Donovan Wilson out of a new uniform by signing him to a three-year, $24 million extension.
Bringing Wilson back to play with Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker gives the Cowboys three safeties with a combined 115 starts between them. Granted, none of that trio has reached a Pro Bowl, but it’s still a stark contrast to what the Eagles employ at the position. That raises a potentially controversial question: if you’re taking the entire secondary into consideration, are there other teams being left out. True, no other club in the NFC can point to a pair of All-Pro corners. But across the entire secondary, what about a group like Detroit? The Lions spent roughly $50 million combined on the trio of Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and Gardner-Johnson this spring, and they had to be excited when highly touted Alabama DB Brian Branch fell to them in the second round of the NFL draft. Add that to the pair of Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph, and the Lions’ once-thin secondary looks awfully strong.
It’s also worth naming the Seattle Seahawks, who found a breakout star in Tariq Woolen last season and return a Pro Bowl safety tandem in Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams. They also added Devon Witherspoon, widely regarded as the best corner in this year’s draft class, with the No. 5 overall pick.
Still, it’s hard to top the combination of talent and depth in Dallas. The top six players on the Cowboys’ depth chart have extensive starting experience, in addition to the accolades that come with players of Diggs and Gilmore’s caliber.
That won’t mean anything in September, when the games have started. But it’s July. For the time being, it’s hard to argue against the Cowboys as the best secondary in the NFC — and potentially the league.
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.
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