One of the biggest storylines in sports since the beginning of January has centered on what the Dallas Cowboys are going to do with their own free agents. Namely, would they be able to reach agreements with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Robert Quinn, and Byron Jones. Though the team has made it clear their desire to bring back the first three, they’ve been less interested in giving Byron Jones a contract that could make him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL.
Per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, though they hope for Jones to return to the Cowboys after exploring free agency, they’re readily allowing him to test the market when free agency opens on March 18th.
After watching Jaylon Smith, Ezekiel Elliott, and La’el Collins get their contract extensions last summer followed by the more earnest pursuit of Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, it’s somewhat frustrating that the Cowboys are going to allow one of their best defensive players to walk. Though many, including Jerry and Stephen Jones, will argue that there’s not enough money to go around, the Cowboys have far more financial flexibility than they’d like to admit.
While many decry Byron Jones’ lack of interceptions, teams from around the league will be lining up to sign one of the best cover corners in the NFL over the last two seasons. His ability and his durability make him one of the top free agents available this Spring and there’s a strong likelihood that Jones becomes the richest cornerback in the NFL.
The Cowboys unwillingness to find a contract extension for Byron Jones flies in the face of the “sign our own” mantra that we’ve heard from the Dallas Cowboys for much of the last decade after Brandon Carr failed to live up to the big money contract the Cowboys handed him in 2012.
There’s a parallel that could be made between Jones and Carr. Both were solid, if not good performers for the Dallas Cowboys during their tenure, they were very durable players, and both struggled to create turnovers toward the end of their contract with the Cowboys.
In Brandon Carr’s first two years with the Cowboys, he had six interceptions, three each season. In the final three seasons of his five-year deal, Carr had only one interception. The next two seasons after leaving the Dallas Cowboys, Carr had six interceptions the next two seasons for the Baltimore Ravens. There’s potentially a reason for that.
Carr’s first two seasons with the Cowboys, 2012 and 2013, his defensive coordinators were Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffen. The final three seasons of his time with Dallas, his defensive coordinator was Rod Marinelli. The only defensive coordinator that Byron Jones has ever known has also been, you guessed it, Rod Marinelli (though Kris Richard called plays as well).
Many argue that Byron Jones doesn’t deserve to be paid the richest cornerback contract in the NFL because he doesn’t create turnovers. But the Dallas Cowboys defense simply didn’t intercept the ball during the last five seasons. Since 2015, the Cowboys never ranked better than 25th in the NFL in interceptions.
Byron Jones, like most cornerbacks, are paid to cover wide receivers and he’s been one of the best at covering NFL wide receivers over the next two seasons. The Cowboys have some good players in Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie (who’s had his share of bad luck) and the NFL Draft has options the Cowboys could use to replace Jones. However, the reality is, losing Byron Jones makes them worse on defense and in turn, makes the team worse.
We won’t know the effect his likely departure will have on the defense until they take the field in September, but losing a player with his ability and durability will have a negative effect for sure. The Dallas Cowboys could bring Byron Jones back if they wanted to. The thing is, they haven’t acted like they wanted to much this offseason.
When he signs with another team in a few weeks, remember it won’t be because the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t afford to keep him. It’ll be because they chose not to.