In the fifth and final part of our series highlighting the Dallas Cowboys and their pending free agency decisions, we end with the secondary.
Over the last few weeks, I have taken a deep dive into the Dallas Cowboys and their free-agent issues. If you missed any of the previous primers, you can check out the quarterbacks, skill positions, trenches, and linebackers by clicking on the links.
Today, we end with one of the most maddening positions over the last decade for this team. One could easily argue, this group has been consistently the worst for far too long.
Simply put, the Cowboys have had next to no production from their secondary for as long as anyone cares to remember. Over the past five years, Dallas has finished 30th, 26th, 25th, 27th, and 31st overall in total interceptions. Just twice in the past decade have the Cowboys finished in the top ten in fewest passing yards allowed.
To be fair, Dallas has literally tried everything. There have been positional coaching changes, changes at the defensive coordinator, player changes, high draft picks, free-agent spending, multiple picks in the same draft and undrafted free agents getting a shot. Regardless, none of it has worked.
Going into 2020, the Cowboys first decision has to surround what to do with former first-round selection Byron Jones. The poster child for this team’s efforts to turn over every rock, Jones started his career as a cornerback, moved to safety, only to moved back to cornerback for the last two seasons.
Is Byron Jones an upper-echelon corner in this league? I think so. Could he be an upper-echelon safety? I think so. Is he worth the massive contract that some team inevitably will throw at him? That, I cannot honestly say is my opinion.
In a perfect world, the Cowboys would lock up deals with both quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper, then use the franchise tag on Jones. One year at $16-18 million I could get behind. Four or five years at a total of $65-70 million, not so much.
Currently, there are nine cornerbacks in the league in that price range. Every single one has multiple seasons of three or more interceptions except Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Even so, Rhodes is a three-time Pro Bowler with one All-Pro selection. Jones, meanwhile, has two career interceptions and just one Pro Bowl nod. At the end of the day, the Dallas Cowboys received five years of good play from Jones but circumstances prevent them from moving forward.
Beyond Jones, cornerbacks Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin are also free agents. Brown’s play was in decline prior to his season-ending triceps injury, while Goodwin is primarily a special teams contributor. A one-year, prove it deal or a two-year contract with a team option in 2021 makes the most sense for Brown. Goodwin should be back for the veteran minimum.
To replace Jones, the Dallas Cowboys could look at several former first-round selections who may cost far less due to their recent play. Darqueze Dennard, Trae Waynes, and Kevin Johnson could all be in consideration. Dallas could also look at some other names like Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, and Ross Cockrell to bolster their secondary.
At the safety position, the Cowboys are set to lose three players to free agency. Darian Thompson, Kavon Frazier, and Jeff Health are all able to find employment elsewhere. The large section of fans of this organization would love to see Heath in a new uniform in 2020. I cannot say that I disagree. Thompson and Frazier could return on low-cost deals, if for nothing else than to provide depth and play special teams.
One player that the Dallas Cowboys should target in the free-agent market to replace Heath would be Tre Boston. Honestly, this should have happened last season, but this organization continues to undervalue the position, much like they do the interior of the defensive line.
Last year, Boston was a free agent who ended up in Carolina. He went on to post 68 tackles with three interceptions. In fact, Boston has had three or more interceptions in three consecutive seasons. His 11 total interceptions over this time frame would be 15 short of what the entire team has compiled in since 2017.
Replacing Jeff Heath with Tre Boston and bringing in two or three talented, albeit underperforming, cornerbacks to supplement the loss of Jones would preserve the type of money the Dallas Cowboys will need to sure up other positions in need. These types of moves, along with another top-100 draft pick could be sneaky improvements over a much-maligned group that has been too used to underperforming.