If the Dallas Cowboys allow top Cornerback Byron Jones and backup Anthony Brown to depart this offseason as free agents, it would leave Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis as the only legitimate starting options for 2020. While a new corner would likely be added this offseason, how would Dallas fare with Awuzie and Lewis taking over as the new top two?
Second and third-round picks in 2017, Chido and Jourdan were expected to play major roles on the team from the moment they were drafted. Awuzie has been a starter the majority of his career thus far, while Lewis had to fight past Brown to claim a larger role last season.
Ironically, Lewis has arguably been the better player so far. But his smaller size was an issue for former Defensive Backs Coach (and pseudo Defensive Coordinator) Kris Richard, and Jourdan was held back a bit the last two seasons.
But with Jones and Brown’s contracts expiring and nothing clear about the Cowboys’ plans for then, Awuzie and Lewis are the only secured assets for 2020. Other players under contract such as Donovan Olumba, D.J. White, and Chris Westry are all unproven prospects; we’d be worried even trusting one of them as the third CB this season.
There’s a reason we must consider this potential dilemma. If the Cowboys let Byron Jones walk it’s because they don’t have money to burn, and that same limitation could prevent them from signing a comparable replacement.
Counting on the draft to replace Byron would also be complicated. Would a rookie taken at the 17th pick be guaranteed to start immediately? And worse, what if he’s another Taco Charlton or Morris Claiborne?
The Cowboys could try to fill Jones’ spot but still wind up needing Awuzie and Lewis to start Week One.
The guy who might make it work is Lewis. If the new coaching staff is more willing to trust Jourdan than the last one, Dallas may get to realize why Jourdan was seen as a potential late first-round talent in the 2017 draft.
Jourdan's four interceptions so far in the NFL, despite his limited usage by the Cowboys, speak to his play-making potential. If he can make opposing teams pay for throwing in his direction enough times, he may be able to have a similar on-field impact as Byron Jones.
No, Byron hasn't been an interception machine of any kind. But even with just two career picks, Jones has been able to demand respect through his superior coverage skills.
Opposing quarterbacks don't like messing with Byron Jones. If Lewis can eventually have that same reputation, then he can duplicate the effect on opponents' decision making.
Now this is a big leap of faith, and one the Cowboys probably aren't ready to make. Trusting Awuzie and Lewis to start in 2020 would mean counting on both to raise their games, and that may be asking too much in their fourth seasons.
But depending on how cap dollars and draft picks fall then Dallas may not have a better option. If 2020 does end up being the Chido and Jourdan show at cornerback, then we have to hope that the new defensive coaches can get more out of them than Kris Richard did.