After two weeks of the 2016 regular season, the Dallas Cowboys are still riddled with questions. Tony Romo’s return, Ezekiel Elliott’s play, the chronic pass rush issues; these are just the biggies.
One thing has been clear after two games, though. Morris Claiborne is the best cornerback on the team.
Finally healthy and able to play to his potential, Claiborne is on track to maximize his “prove it” opportunity this season. An unrestricted free agent in 2017, Claiborne may wind up being one of the better options on the market.
Naturally, the Cowboys must be wondering if they want to compete with other clubs or go ahead and lock up Claiborne now. Here are the major pros and cons.
PRO: Keep the Price Down
Claiborne’s 2016 deal starts at just $2.7 million with roughly another million in incentives. His rookie salary in 2012 was almost $3 million. It’s little more than half of what he made last year.
Claiborne has never had a “payday” by NFL cornerback standards. Despite his struggles since entering the league, this is still a guy who once went sixth in his draft class. Claiborne no doubt envisioned having a $10-$15 million per-year contract one day.
Last Spring, 28-year-old Josh Norman got five-year, $75 million deal from Washington. Janoris Jenkins, 27-years-old, got $62.5 million over five years from the Giants. Even at 29-year-old, Shaun Smith got a four year, $40 million contract from Oakland.
Claiborne will have just turned 27 when free agency opens next year. He will be a former sixth-overall pick who may have just had a breakout season. Claiborne will want to get paid, and he probably won’t have to look hard for a willing employer.
Dallas should be able to get a discount if they can re-sign Claiborne sooner rather than later. Not only do they keep him from improving his resume, but the Cowboys also can use Claiborne’s own health history to their advantage.
After so many physical issues, Claiborne must be worried that any single play could wreck his comeback year. Betting on himself is a huge gamble. Claiborne may be willing to jump at a modest long-term deal rather than roll the dice on making through the season.
CON: Current Health Could be Fool’s Gold
Claiborne’s history with injuries is a double-edged sword. While it’s something Dallas might be able to use as leverage, it could also come back to bite them if he winds up hobbled or unavailable for the next few seasons.
Reclamation projects happen often in the NFL, but often when a new team tries to give a failed early-round pick a second chance. Dallas did this with offensive tackle Marc Colombo back in 2005. He wound up being a fixture at right tackle for the next five seasons.
Dallas went into an internal reclamation project by re-signing Claiborne. So far he’s looking like another success, but there’s still a lot of football to be played.
PRO: Stability at Transitioning CB Position
Brandon Carr is likely playing his final year as a Cowboy. Orlando Scandrick turns 30 next year and is having some worrisome health problems this season.
Keeping Morris Claiborne around may be necessary just to help stabilize the cornerback position while dealing with these other players. You need at least three quality corners in the modern NFL.
Even if Anthony Brown develops into a quality player, counting on him too much in 2017 seems foolhardy. Dallas will need to add talent to replace Carr and, at the most, see Brown as the insurance against further decline from Scandrick.
If they don’t retain Claiborne, the Cowboys could have two big holes at cornerback to solve in one offseason. That would be a major hindrance to their leverage and limit available resources for other needs.
CON: Inflated Value from Cowboys Weak CB History
Saying Morris Claiborne is the best cornerback in Dallas is great, but may be dangerous reasoning. It’s like determining the most talented Kardashian or the best thing Stephen A. Smith ever said. You’re working from a low bar.
I’ve always felt that Orlando Scandrick’s value has been exaggerated for this same reason. Yes, he’s a quality player and very good out of the slot. But even most of us in Cowboys Nation know he’s not one of the the top corners in football. Still, he gets held on a bit of pedestal in internal discussions.
Claiborne’s value could be similarly inflated. We haven’t seen great cornerback play around here since the best days of Terence Newman.
Ironically, Newman went underrated as a Cowboy. I think this was due to the lingering shadow of Deion Sanders. Some especially bad years at the position in 2010-2011 caused us to finally lower the bar.
Now, we can easily mistake competence for brilliance. Claiborne can have a great year from our perspective but perhaps not one that should earn him a big payday by the league’s standard.
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It’s hard to have a firm opinion on this as it involves information we don’t know. How confident is the Cowboys medical staff in Morris Claiborne’s long-term health? How is he grading out on the plays not captured by the TV camera?
How important is money to Claiborne over remaining a Dallas Cowboy?
The factors all make Morris Claiborne one of the most interesting figures of the 2016 season. Dallas has moved money around one some other veteran deals to create cap space. Working out a long-term deal with Claiborne may have been one of the moves they were anticipating.
Then again, maybe both parties want to wait the full season to see where they stand. Claiborne could easily want to have his free agency experience and get the kind of money he, his family, and his agent all imagined he would one day make.
For now, I’m glad we’re at least able to have the discussion.