Ken Hamlin has just posted on his Twitter that he will be released. Said Hamlin “I would like to say to all of my fans that I appreciate all the love that you have showed me in Dallas. It was a good run…..Thanks.”
Four hours earlier Hamlin tweeted that he was attending a workout this morning. The team notified him of his release once he reached Valley Ranch.
The move comes at a curious time. Instead of waiting until after the draft, the Cowboys decided to part ways with Hamlin now. This may put them in a tough spot, possible forced to draft a free safety (which immediately becomes the #1 position of need).
Perhaps Dallas believes a free safety they covet, such as USF’s Nate Allen or Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett, will definitely be available with the 27th pick. They may be right, but it is never productive to show your hand. If Texas safety Earl Thomas drops, expect another team to now move ahead of Dallas to grab him (it could be argued that would have happened anyway).
Of course, those within the organization seem to love second-year man Michael Hamlin. They believe he has the necessary skill-set to be a ball-hawking free safety. It is unlikely, though, that the Cowboys are relying on someone with zero NFL experience.
Hamlin received a “B-” grade from us in our 2009 safety grades.
In the first four parts of our Grading the ‘Boys Series, we provided in-depth statistical analysis and grades for the offensive linemen, running backs, and cornerbacks. Today, we take a look at the safeties.
As was the case when grading the cornerbacks, we have to be very careful when interpreting the statistics we gather from our film study. For example, despite generally being superior tacklers, we might expect the percentage of missed tackles to be higher for safeties than cornerbacks because the latter is forced to attempt less open-field tackles.
For this reason and others, it is also unreasonable to compare statistics between cornerbacks and safeties. Comparisons can be drawn between players within a position, however, as long as we are aware of the possible limitations to such comparisons.
Below are the results of the 2009 Cowboys’ safety play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.
- Chart Key: TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
- The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
- Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
- The final chart details our own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating. It incorporates the factors we believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a safety. The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score. For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
- The final grade is weighted 2:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.
- Ken Hamlin
Pass Defense: C+
Let’s start off with a grade for which we are sure to receive a lot of flack. We have been stating from season’s end that Ken Hamlin’s 2009 play was not as poor as people made it seem.
There is no doubting that he is not a ball-hawking safety. Would you like to have a player like that on your team? Of course–but only if he doesn’t sacrifice his ability to prevent the big play. Some safeties, i.e. Antrel Rolle, are considered “playmakers” because they get a lot of picks or have a lot of bone-crushing hits, yet they allow a multitude of big plays. A true playmaker, though, is able to do these things without conceding long touchdowns.
Hamlin is not an incredible playmaker, but he is also not a liability in the secondary as many fans believe is the case. He is a cerebral player who has done an admirable job of setting up the defensive coverages and forcing defenses to earn every yard they gain. Sometimes it can be a good thing to not hear your free safety’s name called too much. In a way, Hamlin is a bit of a sensei master in the secondary–leading the troops without overexerting himself. We are only partially joking about that.
While Dallas could certainly benefit from a free safety who is a “true playmaker,” those players are few and far between. Hamlin isn’t going to solely win the Cowboys football games, but he also won’t lose them. He’s not an All-Pro sort of safety, but he’s also not one who should be released.
Run Defense: A-
Let the ridicule begin. An “A-” in tackling for Ken Hamlin? Really?
You bet. Hamlin missed just four tackles (8.0 percent) all season. In comparison, Terence Newman led all cornerbacks by securing 91.5 percent of his tackles. Thus, Hamlin was statistically the most consistent tackler in the secondary in 2009, despite playing a position that is arguably the hardest from which to make tackles.
Pass Defense: C
Sensabaugh has the worst Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating of all three safeties, but that is to be expected since he is targeted more frequently at strong safety. Still, his 67.4 completion percentage against is much too high.
Like Hamlin, Sensabaugh did not make many big plays on the season, securing just one interception. Unlike Hamlin, however, Sensy conceded a few easy scores. He allowed five touchdowns (compared to just two for Hamlin), a stat which we do not even factor into our Pass Defense Rating.
Run Defense: C+
Sensabaugh’s missed tackle percentage of 15.6 percent was nearly twice that of Hamlin’s, despite generally playing closer to the line of scrimmage and thus obtaining more “easy tackle” situations. He also secured just eight more tackles than Hamlin despite this difference in pre-snap alignment and playing more downs.
- Alan Ball
Pass Defense: B
Ball registered a worse score on our Pass Defense Rating than Hamlin, so why are we giving him a better grade? Well, Ball’s inexperience led team’s to target him frequently. In fact, he was thrown at on 6.53 percent of all snaps, nearly three times the rate at which opposing quarterbacks tested Hamlin.
Despite this, Ball allowed the lowest completion percentage of any safety at just 45.0 percent. He also led the safeties in yards-per-attempt against and passes defended percentage. It is not a stretch at all to label Ball the closest thing Dallas has to a “ball-hawk” at the safety position.
Run Defense: D
Ball struggled quite a bit against the run. He missed nearly 1/4 of all tackles, a rate almost triple that of Hamlin. His tackle-per-play average was also the worst among the three safeties.
Final Safety Rankings
1. Ken Hamlin: 82.3 (B-)
2. Alan Ball: 78.3 (C+)
3. Gerald Sensabaugh: 75.7 (C)
The Cowboys’ safeties are obviously not future Hall-of-Famers. We believe Hamlin is unfairly ridiculed due to his lack of takeaways (and we realize we are the only ones who view him as underrated), but he is no Ed Reed.
Should the Cowboys address the safety position early in the draft? If the value is there, yes. Perhaps Texas safety Earl Thomas will drop down to pick #27.
If the Cowboys do not see good value in the first round, however, there is no reason to panic. There are a wealth of intriguing second round safety prospects that should present adequate value for Dallas in round two, such as Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett.
Further, we believe Hamlin is still a starting quality safety. He is certainly not irreplaceable, but it is unlikely that a rookie free safety, outside of Thomas or Tennessee’s Eric Berry, could step into the starting role and immediately perform better than Hamlin.
Assuming the team passes on a safety in the first round, expect Hamlin and Sensabaugh to be the Cowboys’ opening day starters and to force more turnovers in 2010.
There have been rumors abound lately concerning the potential addition of Antrel Rolle to the Dallas Cowboys roster. Rolle is expected to be released in the coming days and has already been linked to several teams, including Chicago, Dallas, and even staying in Arizona. We take a look at some of the positives and negatives that would come with the signing of Rolle.
1. Rolle has good ball skills and play-making ability.
Rolle, the eighth overall pick in the 2005 draft, came out of the University of Miami as a cornerback. We know he is an athletic, rangy safety, characteristics that could benefit Dallas greatly at the position. Rolle can match up favorably with tight ends, running backs, and perhaps even slot receivers. That trait is something Dallas is lacking now from their safeties.
2. He has experience in a defense similar to the Cowboys’ defense.
The Cards, like Dallas, play a lot of man coverage. Like we said, Rolle can play man-to-man against a variety of players, but he can also play centerfield in cover one, a coverage the Cowboys utilize frequently. Rolle’s experience at cornerback would also give the Cowboys a bit of versatility in how they can use him.
1. His play-making ability is not elite and he gives up a lot of big plays.
While Rolle does have better play-making ability than Ken Hamlin, his skills are by no means elite. There is a reason the Cardinals are not paying him his bonus money and letting him test free agency. A lot of fans think Rolle is the answer to all of the Cowboys’ woes on defense, but he is not Ed Reed.
Not only is he not an All-Pro type defender, but Rolle also gives up a lot of big plays. He gambles a lot, which is something that would be discouraged if he landed in Dallas. A big part of Ken Hamlin’s lack of big plays is the role the Cowboys ask him to fulfill. Hamlin has done a tremendous job of setting up the defense and not allowing many big plays.
What makes anyone sure Rolle is ready to change the way he plays? Dallas does need to force more turnovers, but not at the expense of giving up the same number of big plays.
Further, Rolle is a very poor tackler. Hamlin’s ability to bring down the ball-carrier is also sub-par, but he also does not cost nearly as much as Rolle would (which brings us to con #2).
2. The value for Rolle will not be there.
Rolle is seeking over $8 million a year. This would make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. More than Troy Polamalu. More than Ed Reed. Rolle is an above-average safety, but nothing more. Free agency is a lot like the draft in that you are always seeking value, and making Rolle the league’s highest-paid safety does not constitute good value.
The signing of Antrel Rolle would bring with it both positives and negatives. Rolle has good play-making ability and probably would help the Cowboys force more turnovers. Unfortunately, it is likely these takeaways would come at a price. If the defense is allowing more long touchdowns, are the extra takeaways really worth it? Rolle’s abilities are not elite enough to make up for these negative plays.
The value that comes with signing Rolle would also be poor. While the top five free safeties in the league are averaging $6.25 million a year, Rolle wants over $8 million. He simply is not worth it.
A more logical goal for the Cowboys, in our opinion, would be to target their favorite safety in the draft and make sure they get him. Although Eric Berry will go too early for this to be possible,everyone else, including Texas safety Earl Thomas, is a possibility. If Thomas is the guy the ‘Boys covet and he drops into the 20’s, they should make the move.
Otherwise, there are capable safeties that will go later in the draft as well. Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett, USF’s Nate Allen, and Georgia’s Reshad Jones are all safeties who fit the Cowboys’ mold and could be available in the back of round two.
Drafting a free safety in round two or later would likely mean that Ken Hamlin sticks around. While this would be wildly unpopular with most fans, Hamlin is a cerebral player from whom a rookie could take a year to learn the defense. Further, we have a feeling Hamlin is set to rebound nicely in 2010.
Overall, whichever direction the team decides to go, there appear to be better options than overpaying Antrel Rolle.
- Jerry Jones reiterated that keeping Miles Austin is a top priority.
- Wade Phillips believes David Buehler can be the Cowboys’ full-time kicker, although veteran Matt Stover could be an option.
- Matt Mosley of ESPN thinks safety Ken Hamlin improved in 2009, but we disagree.
Demarcus Ware Wired
- A look at some potential Cowboys’ additions at wide receiver
Jerry Jones recently claimed that the Cowboys will make a significant number of changes this offseason, adding perhaps 10 or 11 new players. Said Jones, “One of the biggest challenges I’ve got in my role here is to be an agent of change this year. We have got to look for ways to make changes. That’s personnel.”
While we find it hard to believe there will really be ten new Cowboys next season, Jones’ quote got us to thinking: which ten current players might lose their job? Our predictions are below, in no particular order.
1. Deon Anderson- We detailed why Anderson’s valuable play makes us lean toward keeping him. With the Cowboys’ increased emphasis on player conduct, though, Anderson could be a casualty.
2. Patrick Watkins- He is an excellent special teams player, but the addition of another safety via the draft or free agency, or the movement of Alan Ball to full-time free safety could spell his doom.
3. Junior Siavii- If Dallas selects a defensive tackle fairly high come April, Siavii will probably be out of a job.
4. Steve Octavien- Octavien made some plays last preseason, but he just doesn’t figure to ever be more than a special teams player.
5. Ken Hamlin- This is speculative, but there seem to be a variety of ways Hamlin will get released this offseason, i.e. signing Antrel Rolle, drafting a safety, etc. We think Hamlin is a cerebral player who is set to rebound nicely in 2010, but perhaps Jerry Jones craves a ball-hawking safety enough to let him go.
6. Cory Procter- Procter’s release has been long overdo. He is a sub-par lineman whose versatility has kept him around. Had Dallas not missed out on Max Unger last year, Procter would already be gone.
7. Duke Preston- Preston was already released last year after the team signed Chauncey Washington, only to be re-signed later. If Dallas selects a guard in the draft, Preston is unlikely to stick around.
8. Montrae Holland- Holland could stay if Preston and Procter are released because Dallas would be getting thin at guard. The team also invested a fifth round pick in Holland last season. They may want to see more return on their investment.
9. Sam Hurd- Like Watkins, Hurd is a tremendous special teams player. He also has potential at wide receiver, so his release would be dependent on if the team drafts another receiver, and subsequently how many WR’s they are willing to keep on the roster.
10. Pat McQuistan- The Cowboys are almost certainly going to select a tackle in the early rounds of the draft. They could also address the position again in the later rounds, and with second-year player Robert Brewster returning from a torn pectoral muscle, McQuistan’s time in Dallas has run out.
Q: What are the Cowboys going to do about a kicker? Are they going to draft one or let Buehler do all of the kicking? People continue to blame Romo for everything, but he can’t do it all. He isn’t Chuck Norris.
Amber Leigh Hartman, Southlake, TX
A: Actually Chuck Norris had a tryout in Dallas yesterday, so we’ll see if the Cowboys decide to sign him. The NFL likely won’t allow roundhouse kicks, though, so it is unlikely he will be effective.
In all seriousness, the Cowboys absolutely must make upgrading the kicker spot a priority this offseason. It is unlikely that they either draft a kicker or let Buehler kick full-time, though. Sure, it would be great to have Buehler kick field goals and not have to use two roster spots on kickers, but he is just nowhere near where he needs to be, in terms of accuracy, to step in be counted upon. Drafting yet another kicker, to us, also seems improbable, because the uncertainty that comes with a rookie kicker would probably be too much for Jerry Jones & Co. to take.
Kickers are like fine wine in that they generally get better with age, so expect Dallas to sign a veteran. They may be close to doing so, as they worked out the CFL’s most accurate kicker, Sandro DeAngelis, last Friday. DeAngelis connected on 42 of his 49 career attempts in five seasons with the Calgary Stampeders.
After the tryout, DeAngelis said, “I’m pleased with [the audition], but you really have no idea what they’re thinking. They don’t exactly jump up and down or anything so you don’t have a gauge of where you stand. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
Let’s keep our own fingers crossed that Dallas fixes the kicking situation in 2010.
Q: Do you see the Cowboys making any big trades before the season?
Joe Michotti, New York, New York
A: Probably not. They may try to get a late round pick or two for players that might not be around anyway, such as Cory Procter. The big names that many of you are screaming for the Cowboys to trade, such as Ken Hamlin, Marion Barber, and Flozell Adams, just have contracts that are too heavy for another team to take them on.
Remember, trading for a player is kind of like drafting one. You always want to receive value. When you trade for a guy that has a terrible contract, it is like drafting a player three rounds to early. The risk-to-reward ratio just isn’t there, and there is no reason to make the deal. Sure, the player may be talented and could help your team, but your squad could be improved even further be spreading out the cash to fill multiple needs.
Even in the upcoming uncapped year, teams are unwilling to overspend. Most organizations have set their own spending limit and, because of the uncertainty of the salary cap in coming years, are treating this season no differently than any other. Thus, the contracts that come with Hamlin, Barber, and Adams are a barrier to completing a trade.
If the Cowboys want to part ways with any big-money veterans, they will likely have to release them.
Next: An interview with Cowboys’ LB Jason Williams
- Might the Cowboys part ways with veterans Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin?
- A look at all of the ‘Boys 2009 draft picks
Tashard Choice Mic’ed Up
- Todd Archer thinks Anthony Spencer’s presence makes the possible addition of Julius Peppers impossible.
- Former kicker Chris Boniol will work with the Cowboys’ current kickers.
Note: Tomorrow we will be posting an interview with Cowboys’ LB Jason Williams.
The future of both Cowboys’ safety positions is very much uncertain. Free safety Ken Hamlin has an outside chance of getting cut, and SS Gerald Sensabaugh is a restricted free agent.
Second-year player Michael Hamlin joins Patrick Watkins and safety/cornerback Alan Ball as the backups. Teams rarely keep more than four safeties on the active roster, so not all of these players will be Cowboys in 2010.
Even if Dallas does not add another cornerback, thus making Ball fourth on the depth chart at that position, one of the four remaining names is likely to go. Michael Hamlin is the most probable to be released, followed by Watkins (despite his special teams productivity).
Ken Hamlin’s future may hinge on what the team does in the early stages of the draft. If a safety is chosen in round one, for example, that player may be asked to contribute right away. Yet another current safety would probably be cut, and the team may see no reason to pay Hamlin millions of dollars to sit.
Burnett is a rangy, agile player who was given a lot of freedom at Georgia Tech to roam. They gave him this freedom due to his coverage abilities and excellent ball skills. Burnett goes up and attacks the ball as if he was a wide receiver, and he has displayed an above-average vertical leap.
At 6’1”, 210 pounds, Burnett has about average size, but he is very willing to come up in run support. He would be an immediate upgrade over Hamlin in that regard. His tackling form can suffer at times, but generally he plays under control.
Burnett’s versatility in defending both the run and pass gives him the capabilities to play both safety positions, a trait the Cowboys have frequently valued. Burnett is not slow, but does not have elite speed by any stretch of the imagination. Expect him to run around a 4.55 at the Combine. We don’t generally put too much stock in the forty, but it may be important for Burnett. If he can get into the 4.4 range, he should move up boards.
Still, Burnett has the requisite size and speed to cover tight ends and most backs. Lining him up against a slot receiver could cause problems, but he has a better chance to get beat deep due to his speed than underneath, as he is very quick. Thus, his short shuttle time should be more impressive than his forty.
Burnett is in a battle with fellow safeties Chad Jones (LSU), Taylor Mays (USC), and Nate Allen (USF) to be the third safety drafted behind Eric Berry (Tennessee) and Earl Thomas (Texas). If he secures this spot, which appears unlikely, he would be drafted after the Cowboys’ first pick but before their second. It appears that at least one of those safeties will go ahead of him, and we rate his chances of dropping to the Cowboys’ second-round pick at about 50/50.
If Dallas decides the versatility Burnett brings to the safety position makes him a good fit on the squad, don’t be surprised to see them make a move up the middle of the second to grab him or another safety they covet.
Q: I noticed a majority of the passes thrown to Kevin Ogletree were screens and they worked rather well. Do you think he’ll have a bigger role on the team next season? What’s the word within the coaching staff on him?
A: The Cowboys did utilize Ogletree well on smoke screens, particularly when they anticipated a blitz against the Eagles. Ogletree has tremendous run-after-catch abilities, and Jason Garrett did a terrific job getting him the ball in situations he could handle. Don’t forget Ogletree was an undrafted rookie, so the Cowboys were smart in giving him simple plays where he could use his athleticism without thinking too much.
Ogletree has more to his game than we saw on the screens, though. The comeback route he ran against the Saints comes to mind, where he pushed the defender vertically, got him to turn his hips, made a sharp cut, came back to the ball and made a toe-dragging catch at the sideline. Textbook.
Ogletree will have a tough time cracking the starting lineup, though, because Roy Williams will be given every chance to win the starting job. The coaching staff loves Ogletree, but Jerry Jones is still convinced Roy can be a #1 type wide receiver.
Still, expect Ogletree to continue to improve and, with a good camp and Roy Williams’ meltdown, he does have an outside shot at becoming a starter.
Q: If the Cowboys cut Ken Hamlin and the Cardinals cut Antrel Rolle, do you see Dallas signing Rolle, or will they wait until the draft to address the position?
Bryan D. Cornelius via Facebook
A: The Cowboys are very unlikely to sign Antrel Rolle. They will be perfectly able to sign Rolle, as their Final Eight status does not limit their ability to sign players who were released, but Rolle is getting cut for a reason. He does make some big plays, but he also gives up a lot of the same. Say what you want about Ken Hamlin, but he does a good job of keeping the ball in front of him. Sometimes having a free safety whose name is not called a lot can be a good thing.
Many draftniks are projecting the Cowboys to draft a free safety in the first round, but we don’t see that happening either. Ken Hamlin is unlikely to get released, and the Cowboys have a rookie in Michael Hamlin behind him who didn’t play last year due to injury.
Alan Ball also gives the team a lot of versatility in his ability to play both cornerback and free safety. He could even compete for the starting job in camp.
If pressed, we would guess that the Cowboys opening day starters at safety will be the same as last season. This may not be what a lot of you will want to see, and we know we are in the minority concerning this issue, but we see the Cowboys likely to address other positions in free agency and the early draft.
Although we do not see safety as a top priority like most evaluators, the position could certainly be upgraded. Sensabaugh was solid but not great in 2009. He really did just about an average job in every aspect of the game, not making many big plays but not giving up many either (other than at Minnesota). If Dallas liked what they had in Gerald, they will have to re-sign him soon as he is a restricted free agent.
If the Cowboys are going to replace a safety, it will likely be FS Ken Hamlin. Hamlin had perhaps his worst year as a pro, getting beat often in coverage and displaying his usual below-average skills in run support. To his credit, he is more of a cerebral player than an incredible athlete. He is a big reason the Cowboys secondary rarely lined up incorrectly or blew a coverage.
Alan Ball did a respectable job filling in for Hamlin during his injury, and he may have an opportunity to win the starting job in training camp. Dallas also has two rookie safeties from last year, Michael Hamlin and Stephen Hodge, although neither is likely to make a major impact on defense. All of this depth (along with Patrick Watkins, who may get cut) is why we don’t see the Cowboys being major players in finding a new safety.
If they choose to do so, there are various safety prospects the Cowboys could look at in both the first and second rounds, including Earl Thomas, Nate Allen, Chad Jones, Morgan Burnett, and, our current feature, Taylor Mays.
Mays is an athletic freak. At 6’4”, 225 pounds, Mays may run a sub-4.4 forty at the NFL Combine next week. He is a huge hitter who flies to the ball. He is solid in run support, but often goes for the big hit instead of wrapping up.
His success in run support is not matched by his ability in pass coverage. Mays has no shot at playing free safety in the NFL because he is just too much of a liability in coverage. He has poor hips and, although he has superb speed, he does not play as fast as he will test. His lack of production the past two years at USC is evidence of this. His change of direction is average at best, and his ball skills are all but non-existent.
In our opinion, Mays would be well-served moving to 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. He is a terrible fit for Dallas because, if they choose to upgrade the safety position, it will be for a ball-hawking free safety who excels in coverage. Let’s hope Jerry doesn’t fall in love with Mays’ Combine numbers and star power.
Mays should light up the Combine, so if teams overreact, he could go in the top 15 picks. More likely, however, is that his lack of on-field production will drop him into the 20’s. If he falls to Dallas, though, we expect them to pass due to his poor fit in the Cowboys’ system.