Byron Jones is an enigma.
Very rarely is a player so undeniably good, while also receiving substantial criticism for the areas in which he struggles. No one will tell you that Byron is “trash,” but it's tough to find those who tell you he's elite either.
Despite what his on-field play and natural athleticism strongly suggest.
Jones is now entering unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career, and it's sounding more and more like we'll be referring to him as a “former Cowboys cornerback” in just a few weeks. Dallas has all but publicly renounced his rights, and all the smoke around their contract discussions center around Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.
So now we must ask, is letting Byron Jones walk a good move?
Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report thinks so. Brad predicted 8 of the “worst contracts” to come in 2020 free agency, with cornerback Byron Jones making the list.
“Plenty of teams have already been linked to the suddenly popular cornerback, with Spotrac projecting his market value at $14.1 million annually. Does that make sense for a player who ranked 17th among qualified corners at PFF in 2019, has made the Pro Bowl just once and has just two career interceptions in five seasons?”
Let's be clear: Byron Jones' lack of interceptions does not factor heavily into my evaluation of him or his contract.
The Cowboys defensive backs have clearly been coached to play the receiver's hands, rather than getting their heads around early in routes and contesting the ball for interceptions. They've also been told to avoid giving up the big play above all else – otherwise known as “bend, don't break.”
When you apply these coaching points in practice, you see less turnovers. You also allow less big plays, but interceptions really aren't going to come with any type of frequency.
Jones himself is a freakish cornerback. His length, athleticism, and speed give him all the tools to be a lock down man coverage corner, as well as a rangy defender in zone. And, with the Cowboys, he's done just that.
Jones became the tight end eraser while at safety, but caught flack from fans due to his lack of physicality in the box. Then he moved out to cornerback full time and immediately had an All Pro season in 2018.
Byron Jones is a stud. That's it. That's the evaluation. He is going to get paid this offseason, and the number may shock some people. But letting your top cornerback and one of the top 3 defensive players on your roster walk is never the ideal move.
It may work out. Maybe they can improve in the margins at cornerback through the draft. Maybe Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis both take steps forward, it's certainly possible.
But Byron Jones has earned this deal he's going to get. And it's a shame it has to come somewhere other than Dallas.