Former Eagle Brian Dawkins is among the greatest safeties of this generation, along with guys like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. With eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro's under his belt, all wrapped up with a fiery leadership, his presence has made teams better for over a decade, few can deny his legacy, but does that legacy warrant his return for another season with the Broncos?
Dawkins was drafted in the 2nd round by the Philadelphia Eagles back in 1996. After 13 years with the Eagles he was let go because of the desire to get younger on defense and he was picked up by former coach Josh McDaniels in one of his best moves while here. Since coming to Denver Brian has started 39 of 48 games, made two Pro Bowls and been the foundation for the Broncos defense. But as time is passing, age is beginning to catch up with Weapon X.
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After missing major time during the 2011 season, Dawkins returned to his starting role as the Broncos strong safety in 2011 despite drafting two top safeties. While many figured Dawkins role would decrease as the season went on, the opposite happened, and almost immediately the loss of Renaldo Hill was made painfully clear. As rookie Rahim Moore struggled in his role as free safety, Moore was replaced by fellow rookie Quinton Carter. With Moore's struggles and lacking depth at safety, Dawkins played the 2nd most snaps, 80.2% of total snaps, of any safety behind Carter. But as the season wore on, Dawkins started showing major signs of being injured, and backup David Bruton started to see more playing time.
Dawkins earned a base salary of $1.6 million in 2011 with a $400,000 bonus. This pay was much lower than he was scheduled to make but he re-negotiated his contract. If he were to try and stay in the league and retire, he'd have to keep a similar contract to what he made in 2011. So if he were deciding to not retire, his base salary would be around $1.5 million.
WHAT TO DO?
When looking at where to go looking forward we need to review Dawkins as well as options for replacements:
- Emotional leader of the team, both offensively and defensively, and is key to defensive pre-snap changes.
- Still a quality defender against the run, able to wrap up well and make tackles behind the line.
- Still able to get after the quarterback on safety blitz's, he had 3 sacks, 1 hit and 9 pressures last season, leading the Broncos defensive backs.
- Is getting worse and worse with each season in pass coverage.
- While he had a better missed tackle percentage than Moore and Carter, he still ranked 8th on the Broncos, missing nearly 1 in 10 tackles.
- His health is becoming more and more an issue.
Depth at Safety:
The Broncos currently are pretty shallow in terms of talent at safety. While there are four safeties on the roster, Wilhite is better on ST's than actually as a safety or corner. That leaves Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter and David Bruton.
Free Agency Safety Class:
This isn't a real strong safety class, but there are some veteran talent around. The best part is many of the players are at a higher level, especially in pass coverage. Let's take a look at a few of the players that are a logical fit for Denver:
- Dwight Lowery (Played in Jacksonville with Del Rio and while not a top tier starter, is solid)
- Jim Leonhard (Is a great Cover 2 safety is nice coverage skill)
- Atari Bigby (Has played a great role in Seattle's defense as a role player)
If I were Denver, Bigby or Leonhard would be my choices since we already have a run stopping strong safety in Quinton Carter and let the new safety compete with Bruton and Moore for the starting position.
That leaves us 2nd year player Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter as well as David Bruton. While it is far to early to give up on Rahim Moore, by the end of the season Bruton had surpassed him as the starting full safety while Quinton Carter had shifted over to strong safety. Between these three safeties we are very young and inexperienced and if losing Renaldo Hill taught us anything, it's going into the season with no veteran depth at safety will cause issues, and it showed this season. With that in mind, I believe we either need to resign Brian Dawkins or pickup a veteran like Bigby or Leonhard. Either way, going into 2012 without adding a vet would really hurt this defense.
So when it gets down to it, I would personally sign Bigby or Leonhard, but resigning Dawk might be a cheaper option if Denver doesn't want to shell out a slightly bigger contract for a younger player. Either way, a safety needs to be added, either it be Dawkins or another. The biggest issue for many fans may be separating Dawkins legacy from his recent production, which has been lackluster.