The Dallas Cowboys saw several secondary contributors depart in free agency, and that will rank among their biggest needs going into the draft.
But they might have their starting strong safety already on the roster in Jeff Heath. Coach Jason Garrett endorsed that possibility during a pre-draft news conference on Monday.
“Every time we’ve given him a chance to play on defense, he does something really good for our football team,” Garrett said. “Makes tackles. Makes interceptions. He’s just demonstrated that he’s worthy to be in this conversation about competing for that starting safety spot.”
The Cowboys have an opening at strong safety after Barry Church (Jacksonville) and J.J. Wilcox (Tampa Bay) left in free agency. Byron Jones is the free safety.
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Heath, who turns 26 next month, joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State in 2013 and signed a four-year extension prior to last season. He has made his mark mostly on special teams, ranking third with seven tackles last season. In his limited defensive snaps, Heath was credited with 20 tackles, one interception and two passes defensed.
Heath had a hard hit and sack of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the divisional round playoff loss as well. Heath led the team in interceptions with two in 2015.
Heath will have competition for the job. The Cowboys have Kavon Frazier, a sixth-round pick who played in nine games last season, and will be targeting safeties in the draft. But Heath is an option.
“We feel like he’s able to compete for that spot,” Heath said. “Who knows what’s going to happen here in the next week in terms of who we draft, but we feel really good about him and his chance to compete for one of those starting safety spots.”