Cowboys UDFA class is surprisingly heavy on safeties

The Cowboys seemingly finished their activity in the undrafted free agency pool about a week ago, but they announced all 12 undrafted free agent signings on Wednesday, with very little change from what had initially been reported.

However, one thing stood out. The Cowboys signed three safeties: Nevada’s Emany Johnson, East Carolina’s Julius Wood, and Texas A&M’s Josh DeBerry. Dallas didn’t triple dip at any other position in this undrafted free agency class, and these three signings represent a quarter of the class.

Why is that noteworthy? Safety wasn’t exactly considered a position of need going into the draft. In fact, it was considered one of the team’s deepest positions, with entrenched starters at both spots in Donovan Wilson and Malik Hooker. Behind that duo, the Cowboys have three promising young players in Juanyeh Thomas, Markquese Bell, and Israel Mukuamu.

All three have had moments where they shined in the last two years. Thomas started the season opener this past season, and had five games where he played at least 25% of the defensive snaps, grading out well in coverage. Bell transitioned on the fly to linebacker last year due to depth and injury concerns, and while he ultimately played well given the circumstances, he is expected to return to safety for the 2024 season. Mukuamu hardly played last year, but did look solid in the playoffs two years ago when filling in at slot corner, though he is still listed as a safety.

However, this trio of Thomas, Bell, and Mukuamu are all entering the final years of their current contracts. Wilson is under contract through 2026 and Hooker through 2027, seemingly cementing their statuses as starters provided they maintain their current level of play.

The fact that the Cowboys brought in three safeties through undrafted free agency, though, brings into question the team’s opinion of those depth pieces. While they all have had their moment to shine, all of those moments came under Dan Quinn, and the new Commanders head coach utilizes his safeties in very different ways from the man calling the defensive shots in Dallas now, Mike Zimmer.

Could this be an indication that Zimmer isn’t in love with the depth pieces already on the roster? It’s worth noting that each of the Cowboys’ newly-signed undrafted free agent safeties were known for their run defense in college, with both Emany Johnson and Julius Wood leading their team in tackles in 2023. Improving the run defense has been a big emphasis already for Zimmer and company, and it seems to have played a part in the acquisition of these three safeties.

This could spell doom for the trio of “veterans” who are all entering a contract year while being tasked with learning a new scheme. Defensive snaps will presumably be hard to come by in the regular season, so it may take a really strong training camp for the likes of Thomas, Bell, and Mukuamu to stake their claim in Dallas beyond this year.


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