There has been a lot of talk this offseason surrounding the contract extensions of four Dallas Cowboys who are set to be free agents either next year or the year after that. With Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, and Byron Jones set to hit the free agent market in 2020, and Ezekiel Elliott becoming available in 2021, now’s the time for those contract discussions to take place.
Much of the offseason contract discussion has revolved around the Dallas Cowboys’ newest version of the triplets, Prescott, Cooper, and Elliott, while Byron Jones seems to be the odd man out.
It’s more than likely that Byron Jones is having to wait his turn because of the hip injury that he’s recovering from. The Cowboys focusing on their three offensive stars certainly doesn’t help him either. It’s more than likely that Jones gets a contract sometime in the next eight months, but there are several reasons why the Cowboys might let Jones walk when he becomes a free agent in 2020.
1. Lack of Turnovers
Turnovers aren’t the only thing that matters when it comes to playing the cornerback position, but it’s an important aspect of playing corner. Byron Jones in his four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys has only created four turnovers. He’s had two interceptions and two forced fumbles splitting time between safety and corner before finding his home at cornerback in 2018.
Compared to the players with the top five cornerback contracts in the NFL, Byron Jones ranks well behind Xavien Howard, Josh Norman, Trumaine Johnson, Xavier Rhodes, and Patrick Peterson in interceptions since he came into the NFL in 2015. Compared to the same group of players, Jones ranks fourth in passes defended since 2015.
Jones passer rating when targeted was 85.5 in 2018, which when compared to the top five earners in the NFL at his position, ranks third in the league. That’s really good, but still, there’s something lacking in the way of turnovers.
Since 2015, each of those guys listed above has intercepted at least eight passes. three of them have double-digit interceptions.
Yes, Byron Jones made a position switch in 2018 when he moved from safety to cornerback, but if he’s unable to begin showing an adept ability to intercept passes, it’s going to be hard for the Dallas Cowboys to rationalize paying Jones a top-five cornerback contract. As a cover corner, he’s really good, but what separates the really good from the great is their ability to create turnovers.
2. Jourdan Lewis Waiting in the Wings
The Dallas Cowboys have some seriously good depth at the cornerback position. It’s so good, they have a potential starting corner who has a really hard time getting off the bench. With Byron Jones rehabbing his hip injury most of this offseason, third-year player Jourdan Lewis is getting the opportunity to show what he can do against the Dallas Cowboys first-team offense. And he’s been showing out.
As I wrote last week, Lewis has been impressing in OTA and minicamp practices. He’s been able to make life difficult for the Dallas Cowboys best two receivers; Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb.
There are many who analyze the Dallas Cowboys for a living who think that Jourdan Lewis could be the team’s best cover corner, but with the premium that Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard places on his corners having length and size, Lewis has been on the outside looking in.
Despite being the fourth corner in 2018, he found a way to make an impact when the Cowboys deployed him against Alvin Kamara.
If Lewis’ play this offseason continues into training camp and the preseason, the Dallas Cowboys will be forced to rethink their plans with regard to Byron Jones.
3. Kris Richard
One of the reasons the Dallas Cowboys have been able to be successful despite having big names along the defensive line, particularly at defensive tackle, is because they have one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL in Rod Marinelli. His ability to take guys from other team’s practice squads and turn them into above average to great players is pretty incredible. It’s one of the reasons he’s had so much success in his time as a defensive coordinator. The same goes for Kris Richard.
Richard, from his time in Seattle, has always been able to find those diamonds in the rough to be able to mold into good players. Or in Richard Sherman’s case, a potential Hall of Fame player.
More recently, we’re seeing the work that Richard’s done with Anthony Brown and Xavier Woods at defensive back. Two guys who were drafted in the sixth round have become integral members of the Dallas Cowboys defense.
Brown had a pretty good rookie year in 2016 before hitting a wall in 2017. Woods showed some good moments in 2017 but really showed out in 2018 under Richard’s tutelage. While those were two players who were highly thought of relative to their draft position, being under excellent coaching certainly showed in 2018.
They’re part of the reason that the Dallas Cowboys felt comfortable not investing a premium pick in a defensive back during the 2019 NFL Draft. Woods’ play kept the Cowboys from paying big money to a free agent safety and Brown’s play is keeping a talented player like Jourdan Lewis on the bench. Those guys have put in the work, but the coaching that they’ve received over the last year or more is some of the best in the NFL.
If the Dallas Cowboys do decide to move on from Byron Jones after this season, the Dallas Cowboys front office and coaching staff can feel confident in Richard’s ability to develop a cornerback to replace him.
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Several Cowboys observers and analysts, including 105.3 The Fan’s Mike Fisher, have opined that Byron Jones could be the odd man out when it comes to who the Dallas Cowboys hand out contract extensions to. He’s a good player, and like Dak Prescott on the other side of the ball, Jones is slated to get paid like a top-five player at his position. Much like Dak, it’s not that Jones is a top-five player at his position, it’s because the market dictates that really good to great players get paid like top-five players.
The Dallas Cowboys should do what they can to bring Byron Jones back. He’s a good player and a leader in the locker room. He’s someone you can move around to cover some of the bigger receivers in the league like Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. He’s not quite to the level of shutdown corner yet, but in his first full year as a starting cornerback, he showed that he has a lot of ability to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
Hopefully, 2019 proves to be the year Byron Jones takes away half of the field while taking a whole bag of money.