Stop me if you’ve heard this before: as the Cowboys head into the draft this year, they have a huge hole left at strong safety.
No, that’s not a line I used in a 2004 article, or in 2005, or 2006.
However, I can understand why some may feel that way. The Cowboys have yet to fill the hole that Darren Woodson left when he retired in 2004, due to a herniated disk.
Other Cowboy legends have left holes that have yet to be filled, but nobody thinks the ‘Boys can fill the shoes of Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, or Emmitt Smith. Yet Miles Austin, Tony Romo, and the trio of running backs have all given the team enough hope on the offensive side of the ball.
But the secondary continues to struggle.
With Darren Woodson, you had the team’s all-time leader in tackles (1,350) as well as the last remaining Cowboy from the active roster in the ‘90s Super Bowl championship teams.
"America’s Team" have tried their best to fill those shoes. Roy Williams, Keith Davis, Pat Watkins, Mike Hamlin, and Gerald Sensabaugh are just a handful of players that have, at one time or another, played strong safety in Woodson’s absence, but are no longer with the team.
Woodson was much more than a great tackler, though.
He was usually given the task to set up the secondary and get them in the right positions before the offense snaps the ball. His leadership on and off the field gained him the respect of everyone that came in contact with him.
"He's certainly earned my respect," Bill Parcells said at Woodson’s retirement press conference. "He had it before I came here from watching him play, but now that I've gotten to know him I think he's one of those people that you really think a lot of. He's the kind of guy that makes this profession something that you like to engage in. He's the epitome of a professional. He does epitomize that in every sense. What he did in playing and his approach to the game. I just have a high regard for him personally as well. These are some of the kids you don't worry about when their career is over, because he's gonna do well."
Strong words from a well respected evaluator like Bill Parcells.
But Cowboy fans don’t care if their new strong safety plants flowers for orphans during the offseason, or walks old ladies across the street. They want someone who can stabilize a position that has been a revolving door for seven years.
Pat Watkins never learned how to tackle, Keith Davis never amounted to anything more than a good special teams player and for the safety position there was nothing “safe” about Roy Williams in coverage.
With other positions like cornerback, defensive end, and offensive linemen on the team’s priority list, it’s hard to guess how the Cowboys plan on obtaining a strong safety this offseason.
The replacement may not be of Woodson's caliber, but if he brings just half of what Woodson brought to the table, Cowboy fans will be happy.
"When I put that helmet on, I laid it on the line," Woodson explained. "Not just for this team, but for everyone here. I laid it on the line every time I put that helmet on. I wanted to win so bad, that nothing else really mattered. The most important thing was giving everything I had each time I stepped out on the field. And I think I did that. And when you can say that, it's not as hard to walk away."