Every offseason every team has difficult decisions to make in its roster construction as it prepares for the following season. In 2020, the Dallas Cowboys are no different. With Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones and a whole host of players set to be free agents, Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and the front office will have some difficult decisions to make.
One such decision that shouldn’t be all that difficult, is whether or not to bring back Byron Jones. The argument against re-signing Jones focuses solely on the price tag and the lack of interceptions created by the former first round pick.
It’s true, Byron Jones hasn’t been able to get many interceptions for the Cowboys, first as a free safety and then as a cornerback, but that doesn’t fully encapsulate everything he brings to the table as one of the better cover corners in the NFL.
Like sacks for a defensive end, interceptions aren’t the only way to measure a cornerback’s ability.
Per Pro Football Focus, only three cornerbacks allowed fewer yards per snap than Byron Jones at 0.64 yards per coverage snap; Richard Sherman, Brian Poole, and DJ Hayden. Jones played more snaps than all three of those guys. Only three cornerbacks with more than 400 coverage snaps were targeted fewer times than Byron Jones in 2019.
Jones was tied with Richard Sherman for second in the NFL among players with at least 326 coverage snaps in snaps per target at 10.1. He was fourth in the league in snaps per reception at 17.9.
Though he didn’t record an interception in 2019, everything points to Byron Jones being one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. His presence forces teams to look other directions and when they do throw his way, they don’t find a ton of success.
Heading into the 2020 offseason, with free agency to start in March, Jones should be up there with Prescott and Cooper in terms of offseason priorities.
They don’t have the talent or depth in the secondary that could make a Jones departure more palatable. Jourdan Lewis has some promise, but he’s still unrealized potential because of the departed Kris Richard’s reluctance to play him because of his height.
Chidobe Awuzie has his moments, but has struggled playing the football in his own right. Though he’s often in the right spot, he’s allowed a lot of completions in his short tenure as a Cowboys starting corner.
Anthony Brown is also a free agent and has had a roller coaster of a career. It’s unlikely the Cowboys will bring him back at the price he could demand on the open market.
The market value for Byron Jones this offseason looks to be around $14 or $15 million a year, which may sound like a lot of money for Jones’ services, but what else are the Cowboys going to do?
If they choose not to re-sign Byron Jones, they’ll take a step back in coverage in 2020. It’s possible they could draft a cornerback with a premium pick who could replace Jones, but the coverage aspect would be suffer a drop off from Jones to a rookie or Jones to Jourdan Lewis.
I don’t think the Cowboys would feel great about heading into the 2020 season with Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie starting on the outside for this defense.
In the modern NFL, teams need players who can cover and though it took them a while to realize his best position, Byron Jones can cover. The price may be high when his contract is finalized, but given his ability and what would be left on the roster, the Cowboys can’t afford to let him leave in free agency.
Jones may not be a splashy or flashy corner, but he’s one of the best players on the defense. If the Cowboys want to take a step forward as a team in 2020, they need to re-sign Byron Jones.