The Dallas Cowboys were dealt a tough blow when emerging safety Barry Church was lost to a torn Achilles tendon back at the end of September. Compounding the situation even more was the inability of rookie Matt Johnson to get on the field and a glaring lack of depth.
Suddenly, Danny McCray's role expanded from special teams ace to starting safety, and so far, he's done an admirable job. With depth still a concern, the Cowboys signed Eric Frampton on September 25, but it was more of a move to fill the void on special teams now that McCray was a defensive starter.
Frampton wasn't supposed to be the stop-gap answer at the safety position or expected to provide major production on defense if called upon. What would complicate things even more would be an injury to either Gerald Sensabaugh or McCray, so the Cowboys hit the waiver wire and signed Charlie Peprah. It was a good move by the Cowboys given the situation and maybe another diamond in the rough for the pro personnel department.
With Matt Johnson potentially headed to injured reserve, this was a move that the Cowboys had to make in order to secure solid depth. There aren't many capable, experienced, productive players in general sitting on couches across America who are not in the NFL, but I wouldn't underestimate Peprah's signing when you consider his background.
Peprah, at 5'11" and 200 pounds, has good size and is a playmaking safety who can actually contribute to Rob Ryan's defense. He gives the Cowboys a legitimate starting option at safety opposite of either Sensabaugh or McCray. By nature, McCray is more of a special teams player who is still adjusting to life in the base defense and doesn't have the experience that Peprah possesses.
Peprah's experience as a member of the Green Bay Packers is nothing to undermine. He started in 26 games, including the Super Bowl, and was an overall solid performer. In his final season with the Packers, Peprah ultimately replaced starter Nick Collins and went on to produce 94 tackles, 10 passes defended, five interceptions and a forced fumble. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown.
The expectation level for Peprah should be more on the moderate side and less on the notion that he will make huge contributions. The best way to use him would be as a situational or rotational player who can play in specific packages. I looked back at some of his game footage as a Packer, and you see a physical player, a sound tackler and someone who is frequently around the ball.
The adjectives that come to mind for me when you watch his play are solid and efficient. For me, this seems like a calculated move by the Cowboys that mainly centers around Matt Johnson's status. If Peprah were accompanied by any injury baggage, this move would be pointless. But I like the fact that he played in a tough division, he experienced football's ultimate prize, and he's battle-tested.
Peprah was released by the Packers in July because he failed a physical and was never offered a chance to return. If he can regain the form that made him a solid contributor as a Packer, then this team may have found the Laurent Robinson of the defense.
There is always something to be said in any sport for an athlete looking for a chance at another opportunity. I like the element that they have something to prove to their peers, to the people who gave up on them and, ultimately, what they have to prove to themselves.
The questions that surround this type of signing are usually common in nature. Is he really healthy? Were other teams interested? How come he wasn't signed earlier? The answers don't make a difference right now. What does matter is finding out whether Peprah can be a legitimate candidate for playing time, a solid backup or even a player with a future on this team.
All of that remains to be seen, but I like the chance that the Cowboys are taking on a player who could turn out to be a valuable signing. Maybe, once again, the Cowboys caught lightning in a bottle on a veteran—and somewhat unwanted—free agent.
At least the safety position appears to be a safer situation.