At the cornerback position, the Dallas Cowboys appear to have one of the best groups in the NFL heading into the 2019 season. It's a deep group with Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis at the top of the depth chart. Michael Jackson has the talent to play on the inside and outside, which makes for a nice fifth corner if called upon. After 2019, however, the cornerback group could look drastically different.
It's been assumed that Byron Jones, who will be a free agent in 2020, will get an extension with the Dallas Cowboys and find himself manning the right side of the defense for years to come. As Jones recovers from offseason hip surgery, it appears his contract talks have been put on hold for a bit.
Another assumption that's been made is that Anthony Brown, who will also be a free agent in 2020, will be allowed to walk in free agency. Brown has been excellent for the Dallas Cowboys in the run and pass game as their primary slot corner, so he could find a significant contract on the free agent market.
Since Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard was hired and made the passing game coordinator, it's also been assumed that Lewis doesn't fit what Richard wants in a long, lengthy defensive back. Yes, Lewis isn't the tallest corner at 5-10, per Pro Football Reference, but his arm length had him in the 60th percentile at corner coming out of college. Each of the last two offseasons we've attempted to find trade partners for Lewis, but the Dallas Cowboys continue to hold onto what many feels, including Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com, is the Cowboys best cover corner.
With Byron Jones rehabbing his injury, the Cowboys have gotten to see a lot of Jourdan Lewis filling in at that right cornerback spot with the first team, and he hasn't disappointed.
This from Bryan Broaddus covering OTAs:
"It’s never easy to have to deal with Randall Cobb out of the slot, but give Jourdan Lewis a lot of credit for denying him the ball on a dig route. Cobb did his best to attempt to shake loose from Lewis, but he never allowed him to get away. Lewis was physical off the line. As the route went up the field and when Cobb made his break, Lewis was right there to knock the ball away from him without interfering. I’m just thinking that we all might need to be careful throwing dirt on Jourdan Lewis – the guy is a heck of a player."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
And then this also from Broaddus from the Dallas Cowboys minicamp:
"Having to deal with Amari Cooper’s route running ability forces most cornerbacks to wilt. The pressure that he puts on them in those first three steps is impressive. Cooper tried to break down Jourdan Lewis -- but Lewis was having none of it. Lewis patiently stayed in his pedal and waited for Cooper to make his move. He didn’t try and jump the route or overcommit to his movement. Without touching Cooper, Lewis simply adjusted and worked with him up the field, never allowing Cooper an inch of separation."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Randall Cobb and Amari Cooper are two of the better route runners on the team and very difficult covers. They're veteran players who've had a lot of success in the NFL. In limited snaps, Jourdan Lewis has shown the ability to cover in the NFL and as we saw against Alvin Kamara in 2018, completely shut down one of the very best receiving backs in the game.
With the opportunity that Jourdan Lewis has had to play on the outside during these practices, he could make the front office and coaching staff rethink its plan at cornerback in 2019 and in the 2020 offseason.
Instead of giving Byron Jones an extension, the Cowboys front office could opt to let him play out the season and see if he repeats his performance from the first half of the 2018 season. If Jones is slow to return from his hip surgery and Jourdan Lewis continues to excel on the outside, the Cowboys could opt to let Jones walk in free agency and resign Anthony Brown to continue as the starting slot cornerback.
Remember, the Cowboys can sign Byron Jones to an extension. They'll find a way to afford him if they want to afford him. If for some reason they do let him walk, it won't be because of money. And, for the record, the Dallas Cowboys should get a deal done with Jones sooner rather than later. If Jones has a repeat performance of the first half of 2018, it'll raise his price tag in 2020.
By slowplaying his contract, however, the Cowboys may find themselves changing course on their future plans at the cornerback position, courtesy of Jourdan Lewis. What they loved about Lewis when he came out of Michigan still holds true today. He's a competitive playmaker who will take challenges head on. The longer Byron Jones sits out, the more the Dallas Cowboys could potentially see a future for Jourdan Lewis as an outside cornerback for the defense.
Tony Pollard, Supporting Cast or a Co-lead with Ezekiel Elliott?
Since the Dallas Cowboys drafted Running Back Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft he's been the star of the show. Any of their other offensive weapons have been nothing more than supporting cast the past three years, but rookie RB/WR Tony Pollard could prove to be more than just supporting cast and become more of a co-lead in Zeke's show.
Suggesting Tony Pollard has a chance to be more than just supporting cast with Ezekiel Elliott is a lot to put on a rookies shoulders, but that's the kind of hype he's receiving already. He hasn't even put on the pads yet with the Dallas Cowboys, but he's already receiving Alvin Kamara type comparisons due to the versatility he's expected to bring with him to the NFL.
Living up to those Alvin Kamara comparisons might be even more difficult than becoming anything more than just an extra behind Zeke anytime soon, but it's doable. After all, Kamara immediately stepped in as a rookie and became a costar with Mark Ingram in New Orleans. It's certainly feasible to think Pollard can do the same.
There's of course only one problem with this way of thinking. Mark Ingram is no Ezekiel Elliott. And, no RB on the depth chart behind Zeke the last three years has been good enough to cut into #21's heavy workload. Is the hype surrounding Tony Pollard justified? Is he talented enough to cut into Zeke's playing time?
Those are some really big questions we don't have an answer to as of yet. Training camp could help determine the type of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and beyond, but even that can be thrown out the window once games start to matter in the regular season.
Personally, I think Tony Pollard will be part of a supporting cast behind Ezekiel Elliott this year. I just don't think he's ready to step in and costar with Zeke just yet. I think he will be more of a comedic relief that will be used from time to time to keep things interesting. That's not necessarily a bad thing though considering his versatility to contribute in the running or passing game.
In time though, Pollard could prove worthy of an increase in playing time and become more of a co-lead with No. 21. It may very well be in his rookie season, but he's really going to have to prove himself and that will need to start this week when the Dallas Cowboys kick off their training camp in Oxnard, California.
What do you think? Is Tony Pollard supporting cast or a co-lead with Zeke?
Randy Gregory can Make the Perimeter Pass Rush Extremely Formidable
Randy Gregory showed flashes last season of the potential he has as a pass rusher. Even though he only managed one start he did see action in 14 games. Had registered 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 7 tackles for loss and 15 hits on the quarterback. That's very good production with limited opportunities. Now, this sets up the Dallas Cowboys on the edge getting to the quarterback, and here's how.
The Cowboys acquired Defensive End Robert Quinn via trade from the Dolphins back in March. He is set to start at right defensive end opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence. Gregory, who lines up on the right side as well, can potentially make said side a huge problem for offenses on 2019.
Let's just take a typical season from Quinn which is between 8-9 sacks. If Gregory can give at minimum what he did last season, that's around 15 sacks just between the two of them alone. Now, as we all know, Lawrence can be penciled in for double-digit sacks routinely at this point. So given this information that's a potential 25-30 sacks just from these three players. This is without including guys such as Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, and rookies Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks (assuming they make the final roster).
Why is Gregory's potential impact so important? For me, it's simply where he lines up at defensive end, on the right side. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, which means when they drop back to pass they face left side defensive ends, with their backs to defensive ends coming off the right side. If you can consistently pressure a quarterback from his blindside the opportunities for sacks and fumbles increase. Regardless of how skilled a quarterback is you can't avoid what you can't see.
Of course, this all depends on what the NFL does regarding the reinstatement of Gregory. He was suspended indefinitely in February for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, a situation he is all too familiar with. My guess is Gregory and the Cowboys will ask for a conditional reinstatement like he was given by the NFL in 2018. What this would do is allow Gregory to participate in meetings and condition work until he's a full participant. He is set to apply for that reinstatement within the next few days.
The only thing Randy Gregory can do now is play the waiting game. The league is currently considering the possibility of softening their stance on marijuana use. If they are serious about it I can see Gregory getting reinstated even if it's on a conditional basis. If this is granted the Cowboys will be getting big-time pressure off the edge with Lawrence, Quinn, and Gregory in 2019.
CB Jourdan Lewis Getting Ready For Bounce-Back 2019 Season
For a third round pick, cornerback Jourdan Lewis sure did come to Dallas with his fair share of hype.
In fact, much of Cowboys Nation was more excited about Lewis joining the Cowboys than they were about either of the team's first two selections in that same draft, Taco Charlton and Chidobe Awuzie. But while Awuzie has soared to starting cornerback levels with Dallas during his first two seasons, Jourdan Lewis has been forced to take a back seat.
After a promising rookie season, Jourdan Lewis didn't get much playing time at cornerback in 2018. Anthony Brown took over as the starting slot corner, while Byron Jones and Awuzie manned the outside. This left Lewis as the odd man out, despite what many consider to be impressive cover skills.
Lewis is not allowing this down season to eat away at him too much, though. While speaking with the media last week at SportsCon in Dallas, Lewis gave his thoughts on how his year spent behind the other young Cowboys corners is only fueling him for the future.
"As a competitor it's always tough, especially as a rookie and you're playing all of the time. It's definitely when you take a step back it humbles you. Sometimes you gotta understand that you have to wait your turn and work on your craft. Understand that you always have to stay a professional no matter your situation. And that's what I learned last year."
Considered undersized by the standards typically used by Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard, some have argued that Lewis was never given a fair shot to earn playing time once Richard took over in 2018. Whether or not this is true can't ever be said for sure, and the level of play Anthony Brown exhibited from the slot in 2018 didn't leave much room for substitutions either.
Still, Jourdan Lewis says he appreciates that time he spent on the bench, and he hopes that it will only drive him towards bigger and better things down the road.
"I appreciate the time that I sat last year honestly...Because it made me a better player, maybe a better person honestly."
The Cowboys cornerback situation didn't get any less crowded this offseason. Not only is Dallas bringing back all three of the aforementioned starters from a year ago, but they also drafted Miami's Michael Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
That cornerback room is full of talent. Not only does this create a luxury for the Cowboys at one of the league's most important positions, but it also breeds immense competition between the corners come training camp.
Which, if you didn't know, begins on July 26th.
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