Three of the Dallas Cowboys’ most active defensive backs from the last four seasons are set to become unrestricted free agent in 2021. But even Dallas chooses not to re-sign any of them, they still have a solid core under contract in Cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown, plus Safety Donovan Wilson.
The 2017 draft class’ rookie contracts are all expiring. That means Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods are all about to enter free agency unless the Cowboys sign them to new deals before mid-March.
This potentially outgoing trio has accounted for 126 starts over the last four seasons. Awuzie and Woods have been full-time starters the last three years and Lewis started in 13 games in 2020. They may not have been stars but they certainly carried a heavy workload among the Cowboys defensive backs.
However, none of these three has ever emerged as a consistent contributor that the Cowboys should be desperate to bring back. Even Awuzie, a 2nd-round pick in 2017, has generally given up more big plays than he’s caused or prevented.
Trevon Diggs and Donovan Wilson were the playmakers in 2020 for the Cowboys secondary. And while he’s not flashy, Anthony Brown is a versatile veteran who provides strong depth.
In other words, Dallas won’t be destitute in the secondary if they don’t retain any of their 2017 draft picks.
If anything, the Cowboys should be using this 2021 offseason to upgrade from these likely departures. They appear to have found a long-term answer for one CB position in Diggs but he needs a true partner and neither Awuzie, Lewis, or even Brown have shown that level of play.
Similarly, Wilson has emerged as a playmaker at safety while Woods took a big backwards step in 2020. Maybe new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn will see ways to undo Mike Nolan’s damage and get Woods back on track, but Dallas may also want to find a stronger coverage safety to mitigate some of Wilson’s current weaknesses.
One player also under contract is 2020 4th-round pick Reggie Robinson, who was essentially redshirted as a rookie as Dallas converted him from cornerback to safety. Who knows what Robinson might contribute, and from what position, as he hopefully progresses in his second year?
Clearly, this isn’t to say that the Cowboys won’t have work to do with their secondary this offseason. But losing all of Awuzie, Lewis, and Woods this offseason might have sounded like a disaster if you’d proposed it a couple years ago.
Thankfully, the emergences of Trevon Diggs and Donovan Wilson in 2020 and the veteran stability of Anthony Brown would make it a less damaging blow to the Cowboys defense. I do think Dallas will bring back at least one of the free agents, and maybe even more as their free agent market prices shouldn’t be too high.
But at the very least, we won’t have to be too concerned if none of them return.