It is amazing to me how a guy like Ken Hamlin can fly under the radar during the regular season. Sure, people want to see him make more plays, but he doesn't get beaten for big plays either. And so he flies under the radar because you don't even know he's on the field unless you are paying close attention to the game. Heck, half the time he is lined up so far off the ball that he doesn't even make it into the TV view of the game. The offseason gives us a chance to really evaluate the play of guys like Hamlin who you don't always notice during the season.
The stats don't lie for Ken Hamlin. 2007 was an aberration. He scored a big contract on the back of his 5 interceptions and 15 passes defensed that season. He looked like young player who fit perfectly into the Wade Phillips 3-4 scheme and would be a playmaker in the defense for years to come.
But the last two years tell a different story. In 2008 Hamlin had just 1 interception and 2 passes defensed in 16 games. And last year he managed a total of exactly 0 interceptions and again just 2 passes defensed in 12 games. Those are some pitiful numbers.
Ok, so you can argue that the stats don't tell the entire story. Jerry Jones likes to refer to Ken Hamlin as the quarterback of the defense. He is the guy who makes sure that everyone lines up correctly before the snap and he helps communicate defensive assignments before the play. I could be sold on the argument if you could prove to me that another player couldn't do the same job while also making a play once in a while.
So to me the question to keep Hamlin boils down to what you have to replace him. As of right now it looks like Alan Ball. Mike Hamlin got injured last year so he didn't actually get to develop much last season. He clearly isn't ready to step into a starting role. But Alan Ball might be. Ball looked decent in his time as a starter in place of Hamlin last year. He seemed to do a better job the more he was on the field. But he didn't do anything to knock your socks off either.
I think Ken Hamlin's job with the Cowboys is dependent on two things. First, can the Cowboys find a suitable replacement in free agency without breaking the bank. And secondly, if they don't find a free agent, can they find a dynamic player in the early rounds of the draft who could step in to start either right away or early in the season. They could use Ball to hold down the fort while allowing a rookie to transition to the NFL level without throwing too much at him all at once.
Ken Hamlin is never going to be a guy who makes plays all over the field. He has proven that. So the only thing that will save him is if the Cowboys cannot find someone better this offseason. There are no salary cap ramifications for cutting him, so that won't save him like it may have last season.
The Cowboys haven't been big players in free agency up to this point. Oshiomogho Atogwe is still out there. The Cowboys might be waiting to let the market calm down so they don't have to overpay for an above average but not great player. He hasn't been exactly stellar either over the last two year. But he has 7 interceptions over the last two years as opposed to 1 for Hamlin. And he has been a more active tackler but that could be a result of the terrible players around him. If Atogwe is the best free agent available I can see why the Cowboys aren't rushing to break the bank for him. But he does merit a closer inspection by the Cowboys.
And hey, if things don't work out with Atogwe, then at least we can still hope for a player in the draft. There are several safeties coming out this year that look pretty good. Eric Berry from Tennessee will be gone long before the Cowboys pick. Earl Thomas from Texas might slip far enough for the Cowboys to trade up to get him. And Taylor Mays from USC is predicted to be drafted in the Cowboys' range of round 1. So there is definitely hope this year in the draft. But you never really know about college players until they get on the field with NFL players.
The worst case scenario would be that Ken Hamlin comes back again as the starter next season. The defense will still be missing a playmaker at free safety but at least we'll know the defense won't be giving up big plays. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a better option to be given the job, but the defense wouldn't collapse if Hamlin is back next season.