Based on media attention it’s starting to feel like the Dallas Cowboys only have one priority free agent for 2021. Of course, Dak Prescott’s future is of paramount concern to the franchise and fans. But another key free agent this offseason is starting Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. What are his prospects for returning to the Cowboys?
Awuzie has been the #2 cornerback the last three seasons, playing wingman to Byron Jones from 2018-2019 and partnering with Tevon Diggs for portions of 2020. At the very least, he’s filled a role that you’d expect from a former 2nd-round pick.
The issue facing Dallas now is that Chido’s never been consistent in either his performance or staying healthy.. He missed six games his rookie season and half of 2020 with hamstring issues. But even when on the field, Awuzie vacillates between a playmaker and a liability in a way that would make Jeff Heath proud.
Part of the problem for Chido, especially when Byron Jones was around, was the volume of passes thrown his way. Opposing offenses tended to attack Awuzie rather than gambling against the Pro Bowl CB on the other side of the field.
It’s hard to look good in the modern NFL at cornerback. Those occasional interceptions or pass breakups buy you credit but more passes are completed than not. Unfortunately for Awuzie, he was in the frame often when opposing receiver were making catches.
It hasn’t helped that Chido’s had three different position coaches in four seasons. After flashing potential his rookie year under Joe Baker’s coaching, Awuzie wasn’t the only CB to regress once Kris Richard showed up in 2018. Then last year, the new defensive scheme and staff under Mike Nolan caused issues across the board.
That’s why Chidobe Awuzie’s future is so murky right now. How do the Cowboys perceive him after these first four years? Where might he fit on the 2021 roster? And how much can he reasonably expect on the open market?
Even if the team has reservations about Awuzie he could benefit from the overall situation with the defensive backs. Dallas isn’t in great shape at either cornerback or safety and Chido could provide some degree of help.
At the very least, Awuzie has been a better CB overall than Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown. That’s not a high bar but it does at least give him something positive going into the offseason. It’s more likely that the Cowboys would want to bring him back than Lewis, also a free agent, at this point.
Another avenue for Chido to return would be to try his hand at playing safety. The notion of moving Awuzie to safety has been out there since he was drafted and the opportunity may be there with Xavier Woods also heading into free agency after a very disappointing season.
This is where the money and market value become the issue. The Cowboys can’t afford to pay much to keep Awuzie or other players depending on what happens with Dak Prescott. Could Chido attract enough interest from other teams that he becomes too expensive for Dallas?
Chido is considered an average NFL starting cornerback by at least one analytical measure. Given that he’ll be just 26 this season, this could be enough for a CB-needy team with the right scheme to pay him a solid salary.
But one factor we can’t anticipate yet is what the cornerback market will look like when free agency opens on March 17th. That’s because of an anticipated purge of talent throughout the NFL as teams work to get under the reduced salary cap.
Even if Awuzie is a semi-attractive free agent prospect today, he could get lost in a saturated market depending on how many veteran corners get released in the coming days.
That’s may very well be what the Cowboys are hoping for. If they have their eye on re-signing Chido then waiting for his asking price to be driven down by the market makes sense. Even if some other team does snatch him up, that means there’s probably a comparable player still out there.
With a gun to my head I’d predict that Chidobe Awuzie will be back with the Cowboys in 2021 in some capacity. There are a couple ways he can help the team and I don’t think he’s done enough so far in his career to make much noise in free agency.
But with that said, it feels like a 51% probability. Like so many players this year. Awuzie’s future hangs on how teams handle one of the most unique and difficult offseasons in NFL history.