Perhaps no individual Dallas Cowboys player has more riding on this 2016 playoff appearance than cornerback Morris Claiborne. With free agency on the horizon and an injury-plagued past, the Cowboys' most-talented CB could make a big impact on his future with how he performs during this postseason.
When Claiborne's rookie deal expired after 2015, Dallas was not ready to make any long-term commitment to their former first-round pick. Claiborne had just missed five of the team's final seven games; the story of his career thus far. Still believing in his talent, Dallas signed him to a one-year "prove yourself" contract.
You can understand the Cowboys' skepticism. After being taken with the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Claiborne has missed 35 games during his career. That's 43% of the 82 games (including 2014 playoffs) that he could've played in. This doesn't even include games that he left to due to injury, or games where his performance was limited because of health issues.
Claiborne started off this critical last-chance season as well as anyone could've hoped. He was the best cornerback on the field and had got people excited very quickly. Just check out these two articles that were written after the Cowboys first two games:
That enthusiasm didn't last forever, sadly. Claiborne suffered a groin injury in Week 8 and hasn't been seen since. Now, after a nine-week absence, he prepares to rejoin the team in their first playoff game.
Claiborne's entire career has been polarizing but this 2016 season has taken it to a new level. He's never looked better, or closer to a former Top-10 draft prospect, than he did during those early weeks. But then he missed nine games with yet another injury.
Whatever side of the Morris Claiborne fence you're on, there was evidence to support your position. The question now is where the Cowboys stand on Claiborne's future and what, if anything, he can do to move the needle during this next month.
Morris turns 27 this February, still a prime age for a nice free agent contract. What's more, the cornerbacks entering free agency this offseason are not a huge crop. Even with his red flags, Claiborne could still be one of the most attractive names on the market. Here is a sampling:
- Stephen Gilmore - Bills (age 26)
- Trumaine Johnson - Rams (age 27)
- Captain Munnerlyn - Vikings (age 26)
- Marcus Cooper - Cardinals (age 26)
Gilmore and Johnson will be top targets but you could make a case for Mo being in the Top 3 with them. The point here is that Claiborne, a former elite draft prospect, will be open to the rest of the NFL. Plenty of teams and scouts were looking at him five years ago. Will they look again?
So much depends on what Morris Claiborne does during the playoffs. He needs to enter the offseason on a positive note. It can't be just that he was actually available, though. Claiborne needs to be at the level that we saw early in the season; reminding everyone of why he was once a sixth-overall pick.
Dallas will likely try to keep one of either Claiborne or Brandon Carr. They have Orlando Scandrick under contract and rookie Anthony Brown has been a late-round steal. The Cowboys will want at least one of the other veterans around for stability in 2017.
Carr and Claiborne are polar opposites. Brandon is all about reliability, having never missed a game in nine seasons. He never wows you but plays solidly and is a competent starter when the defense around him are performing. Claiborne is the guy who flashes greatness and keeps you enticed with his upside but just hasn't stayed healthy.
Morris Claiborne has every advantage here. With Carr turning 31 this May, Dallas would obviously rather go with the younger guy. But if they lose faith in Claiborne, the Cowboys might give Carr a short-term deal to provide depth and security while they target a young talent in the draft.
While we all obviously want Dallas to advance in the playoffs, perhaps no player needs it more than Claiborne. One game may not be enough to make a statement. Fortunately, any selfish motivation on Morris' part will only help the Cowboys in their goals of winning a championship. It's a mutually beneficial situation.
Even if this is the last we see of Morris Claiborne in Dallas, we can at least be sure that we're getting his best. Claiborne's ceiling makes him our best cornerback. If he can take a weapon away from Aaron Rodgers, or potentially slow down Julio Jones in the NFC Championship game, it will go a long way to making up for all of the disappointing years before.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Free Agency: Week One Recap
It's been just a week since NFL free agents could begin negotiating with other teams, but it feels like a lifetime for anxious Cowboys fans. Dallas' seemingly passive approach to 2019 free agency has left many disappointed. Still, there are some moves to recap.
As has become their strategy in recent years, the Cowboys have focused on filling up their depth chart and trying to avoid any glaring holes prior to next month's draft. They've re-signed several backups and added at least one likely rotation player.
It's still far too early to judge Dallas' activity. Comparing the 2019 roster to last year will depend heavily on the draft, growth from current players, and other factors. But with the "second wave" of free agency upon us, it's a good time to look at who's come, gone, and stuck around so far.
- TE Jason Witten (unretired)
- TE Codey McElroy (Rams)
- DT Christian Covington (Texans)
The biggest addition so far this offseason wasn't even a free agent, at least not in the purest sense of the term. Jason Witten's surprising return from retirement helped shore up one of Dallas' biggest needs, though it may not preclude them from drafting a tight end high in April.
Also at tight end, Dallas signed developmental project Codey McElroy. His experience is in baseball and basketball, having played just one year of college football. But at 6'6'" and 255 lbs., and having spent last year working with the Rams, the Cowboys must see something they're intrigued by.
Last week Dallas signed Christian Covington, who had 3.5 sacks for Houston in 2018 playing as a 3-4 defensive end. He should move to DT in the Cowboys' scheme and should be a solid addition to their rotation.
- WR Cole Beasley (Bills)
- TE Geoff Swaim (Jaguars)
- DL David Irving (shenanigans)
- LB Damien Wilson (Chiefs)
Beasley is heading to Buffalo on a four-year, $29 million deal. It appeared the relationship soured between Cole and Dallas over his playing time last year, and clearly the Cowboys didn't fight hard to keep him.
Damien Wilson followed Anthony Hitchens to Kansas City to help round out their linebacker corps. Once it was announced that Dallas was hanging on to Sean Lee in 2019, it was fairly certain that Wilson wouldn't be back.
Also not expected back was TE Geoff Swaim, who signed with Jacksonville. Even before Witten came back, Dallas appeared likely to stick with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz for returning talent and then add an upgrade via free agency or the draft.
While still a free agent, nobody expects David Irving back in Dallas or even the NFL after recent activities. Irving appears focused on a Hollywood career and advocating for medical marijuana use at this point.
- FB Jamize Olawale
- WR Tavon Austin
- WR Allen Hurns (team option)
- OT Cam Fleming
- G/C Joe Looney (team option)
- DE DeMarcus Lawrence (franchise tag)
- DT Daniel Ross (ERFA)
- LB Justin March-Lillard
- S Darian Thompson
While Dallas put the franchise tag on prized pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, his return in 2019 is far from settled. Lawrence has previously sworn he wouldn't play under a second franchise tag this year, and last we heard the two sides are far apart on a long-term deal. Could a holdout be on the horizon?
The Cowboys doubled-down on WR depth by re-signing Tavon Austin and exercising their team option on Allen Hurns' contract. Both are able to play out of the slot, meaning we could see more of a rotation approach to replacing Cole Beasley next year.
Dallas also re-signed fullback Jamize Olawale, which was a surprise given his low usage rate last year. Perhaps the change to Kellen Moore at offensive coordinator was behind this one, hoping to take better advantage of Olawale's receiving skills going forward.
Joe Looney and Cam Fleming will also be back as valuable backups on the offensive line. Looney started 16 games last year at center and also helps at guard, while Fleming will be the swing tackle once again for his second season in Dallas.
On defense, Dallas kept Daniel Ross in their DT rotation after solid performance in 2018. Justin March-Lillard return at linebacker, particularly for his value on special teams. And Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick by the Giants, is back as an ongoing developmental player.
~ ~ ~
If this is any indication, next week's recap may have a lot more to discuss.
REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Clayton Geathers Today
The Cowboys appear to be waking up in 2019 free agency. After a report earlier that they're meeting with WR Randall Cobb, now they're also visiting with Safety Clayton Geathers. He's spent the last four years with the Indianapolis Colts and was a starter and team captain in 2018.
Geathers missed four games last season with a neck injury but still had 89 tackles on the year. He has yet to get an interception since entering the league in 2015, but hasn't been a full-time starter for much of that time.
Free agent S Clayton Geathers is visiting the Cowboys today, per source. He was a team captain for the Colts last season, starting 12 games and recording 89 tackles.
At 6'2" and 220 lbs., Geathers is every bit of a strong safety. He is likely being considered to compete with Jeff Heath for the starting role and otherwise provide depth.
Clayton's rookie contract expired this year, making him available as a free agent. He turns 27 in June and was a fourth-round pick in 2015.
This is still just a visit and a signing is hardly guaranteed. But at the least, the Cowboys seem to be becoming far more active in this second wave of free agency.
REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent WR Randall Cobb Today
The Dallas Cowboys are hosting free agent Receiver Randall Cobb today at The Star, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Cobb has spent all eight of his NFL season thus far with the Green Bay Packers.
After losing Cole Beasley to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, and with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup entrenched as starters, Dallas must be considering Cobb to help them at slot receiver.
The Cowboys are hosting free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb at The Star today, according to a source. With the departure of Cole Beasley, the Cowboys are looking for help at slot receiver and Cobb can also play on the outside. In eight years in Green Bay, he had 470 catches...
This move is a bit surprising after Dallas chose to keep both Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns from last year. Both veterans are capable of playing out of the slot, as is Amari Cooper.
Cobb, however, may bring more upside. He's struggled injuries lately but was a key part of the Packers' offense for several years. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2014 with nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Turning 29 in August, Randall's contract expired in Green Bay and he remains a free agent. The Cowboys are likely hoping to replace Cole Beasley's skill set at a discounted price.
It's been a slow free agency period for Dallas thus far, and Randall Cobb wouldn't be a glamorous addition. However, any activity would make anxious Cowboys fans happy at this point.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Realistic Free Agents Cowboys Should Sign Before the Draft
NFL Draft4 days ago
Hypothetical La’el Collins Trade Could Recoup Cowboys a 2019 1st-Round Pick
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Cowboys Draft Target: Georgia Bulldogs WR Mecole Hardman
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should Dallas Cowboys Consider Blake Bortles for Backup QB?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
REPORT: Cowboys Keeping OL Joe Looney, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns in 2019
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should the Cowboys Use Their 2020 First Round Pick in 2019?
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Cowboys Show Interest in Browns DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Player News5 days ago
Chiefs Release Eric Berry, Should Cowboys Be Interested?