The Dallas Cowboys need help on the defensive side of the ball. That much is extremely true and adding talent to that side has to be a priority this offseason.

Dallas made a change at defensive coordinator and has multiple defensive starters and contributors up for free agency this March. That includes Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Aldon Smith, and Joe Thomas.

Quinn’s scheme is similar to what the Cowboys ran under former defensive coordinator Kris Richard. Both have ties to the Seattle Seahawks, and the hope is that the change from Mike Nolan’s scheme will help improve the defense in 2021.

The Cowboys do hold a top-10 draft selection to play around with and upgrade the defense with. One problem, though, is that there does not seem to be a dominant, bonafide defensive prospect in this year’s class. The pass rushing class is relatively down, there is not an elite defensive tackle, and even the corners have some question marks.

Therefore, it would make sense for the Cowboys to address some holes in free agency. Dallas has shown that it is not willing to spend top-dollar on the free agent market, but there are some relatively affordable options to be had.

This offseason’s safety free agent class is headlined by some pretty big names. Justin Simmons, Marcus Maye, Marcus Williams, and John Johnson are all looking for new deals.

It seems likely that Simmons and Johnson will be tagged by their respective teams if a deal cannot be reached. It is hard to imagine Dallas spending the money that will likely be required to sign Maye or Williams.

MALIK HOOKER, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Malik Hooker
Nov 17, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook (12) drops a pass after being hit by Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker (29) in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

A potential cheap option at the position could be Indianapolis Colts defensive back Malik Hooker. Hooker was the 15th overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he has been unable to stay healthy in the league. The Ohio State product has yet to play a full 16-game season in his four years.

Because of that, Hooker could likely be had for cheap. The best ability is availability, of course. That makes Hooker a risk, but a risk worth taking if you are the Dallas Cowboys. After all, what does the team have to lose?

It is no secret that the Cowboys like to be cheap in free agency. It is also no secret that the Cowboys need talent in the secondary. When healthy, Hooker has flashed the talent that made him a premiere prospect just a few years ago.

Pro Football Focus recently wrote that Hooker is the most underrated safety on this year’s free agent market.

Projected contract: One year, $2 million (zero guaranteed)
For that kind of contract, any cash-strapped team in need of a single-high safety should absolutely be in on Malik Hooker.

The 2017 15th overall pick has had an issue with injuries throughout his career, most recently a torn Achilles in 2020. Still, Hooker can provide quality coverage over the middle of the field when he is healthy. He even managed to generate the 25th-most WAR among all safeties in the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined.

A player that is coming off an Achilles injury always creates some pause. Still, Malik Hooker would likely be a low-price option in the secondary that could end up being a steal for the Cowboys if able to stay on the field.

KEANU NEAL, ATLANTA FALCONS

Keanu Neal
Dec 27, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) intercepts a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) during the game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Another potential safety for the Dallas Cowboys to target this offseason is Keanu Neal. Neal is an intriguing option due to his relationship with Dan Quinn, which makes it a possibility of the former first-rounder signing with the Cowboys .

The 17th overall pick of the 2016 draft has one Pro Bowl nod under his belt and was a big factor why the Falcons’ defense was surging during the early parts of Quinn’s tenure as head coach. However, Neal has played in just 18 games over the last three seasons.

Much like Hooker, Neal’s value will likely be down due to an injury history that includes a torn Achilles — especially in an offseason where teams will be looking to either save money or offer short-term contracts. That could allow the Cowboys to get a bargain in free agency.

PFF projects Neal to sign a two-year deal worth $10 million this offseason. That is the type of low-cost gamble that would be more than worthwhile for the Cowboys to take. Neal has excelled in Quinn’s scheme before and perhaps another year removed from his two season-ending injuries will allow him to thrive with a new franchise.

It is unlikely that the Cowboys will be willing to spend top-dollar in free agency, especially at a position that they have shown not to value over the years. Therefore, either Hooker or Neal would be a potential low-cost add that could boom for Dallas.

Featured image via Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

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