Jeff Heath Just Wanted to Be a Raider
by Tom LaMarre
Jeff Heath started the last three seasons at strong safety for the Dallas Cowboys, so why would he sign as a free agent with the Las Vegas Raiders, who are loaded with talent on the last line of defense?
The 6-1, 212-pound Heath will be battling for playing time with Johnathan Abram, Eric Harris, D.J. Swearinger, Damarious Randall and Daryl Worley, who was moved from cornerback to safety.
“It felt right,” Heath told Raiders.com. “I have a lot of familiarity with some of the coaches there. (Special teams coordinator Rich) Bisaccia was in Dallas with me for my first five years and (defensive line coach Rod) Marinelli was there too, and I’ve been with him the whole time I was in Dallas.
“I just got a really good feeling talking to Coach (Jon) Gruden and (General Manager) Mayock, obviously Coach Rich and Coach Marinelli, all those guys. A lot of familiarity. It’s going to be fun being a part of something new being the first year in (Las) Vegas, so it all kind of went into that decision.”
The 29-year-old Heath, who was signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State in 2013, played his first seven years with Dallas and earned the starting strong safety spot coming out of training camp in 2017.
Also a strong special teams player, Heath made 346 tackles, including 267 solo, plus 12 tackles for losses and eight interceptions in 106 games for the Cowboys. His best season was 2018, when he made 85 tackles, including 63 solo, and had six tackles for losses.
Heath’s value to the Raiders is that he can play almost everywhere.
“That’s kind of something that started when I played in college,” Heath told RaidersWire. “I played the strong safety role, free safety role, kind of a nickel, outside linebacker type player, which is becoming a lot more popular in the NFL now. I think having that versatility is what has even allowed me to make a career in the NFL.
“Obviously on defense, but maybe more importantly on special teams. My first few years whether it’s running down covering kicks or trying to block guys on returns or blocking kicks or whatever it is. Just trying to be versatile and giving teams a reason to keep you on the roster. That’s really my goal in the NFL is to stay around as long as possible and win as much as possible. Versatility is super important for that.”
Right now, Heath probably is the fourth safety on the Raiders’ roster, so that and his special teams ability should land him a spot when the season starts.
Heath will be rejoining former Cowboys teammates Maliek Collins, Daniel Ross, and Jason Witten with the Raiders, but he has had only phone conversations with the Raiders until now because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
So he can’t wait to get to Las Vegas to meet his new teammates and coaches, including one man in particular.
“I had great conversations with all of those guys and Coach (Jon) Gruden, he's one of a kind,” Heath said. “Talking to him on the phone he brings a ton of energy and lots of excitement.”
Heath seems to have much of the same.