Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones

The Dallas Cowboys lost several stars from the 2019 roster. What now?

  • Amari Cooper
  • Byron Jones
  • dallas cowboys
  • NFL
  • nfl free agency
  • Robert Quinn
By Nate Sanchez March 17, 2020 0 Comment
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The Cowboys are left with plenty of holes to fill on the 2020 roster. It’s time to get creative as more free agents are poached from the team.

Star players for the Dallas Cowboys are getting paid, except not all of them were by Dallas. The Cowboys were able to save face by keeping Amari Cooper in Dallas, but what do the departures of Byron Jones, Randall Cobb, and Robert Quinn mean?

The first 24 hours or so of free agency have included some good and bad news for the Cowboys. First, here’s bad news.

Byron Jones was a phenomenal, shutdown cornerback since his conversion from safety in 2018. He was an unsung hero that often was criticized by Cowboys fans for his lack of interceptions. Here’s the reality: evaluating a cornerback based on interceptions is a terrible way to look at a cornerback. It’s more prudent to evaluate the other 99% of his snaps versus the 1% that a corner’s interceptions take.

Jones was the 3rd most valuable corner in the NFL since 2018 per PFF WAR. He is versatile, durable and was a leader on the team, and quite frankly, was a home run of a draft pick for Dallas. His remarkable athletic ability he displayed in the pre-draft process translated very well to the NFL.

The bottom line is Byron Jones is an elite corner, and while his five-year, $82.5M contract with $57M guaranteed seems pricey, that appears to be the going rate for elite cornerback play as the Miami Dolphins continue to bolster their defense.

That now leaves the Cowboys with Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Donovan Olumba as the only corners currently signed for 2020.

The front four is going to need plenty of help after the first rounds of free agency too.

Problems for the Dallas defense were compounded with the loss of Robert Quinn to the Bears on a five-year, $70M contract with $30M guaranteed. This was far out of the Cowboys’ price range, so it is understandable that they let him walk. Quinn, 29, was 2nd in the entire NFL in pressure rate and in pass rush win rate. He led the Dallas Cowboys defense with 11.5 sacks. Losing that production hurts.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins also bolted for the Las Vegas Raiders. Combined with the loss of Quinn, Dallas now has to find a way to replace 105 pressures from 2019.

The offense took a hit as well, as the Texans poached Randall Cobb on a three-year deal worth $27M with $18M guaranteed. It looks like a desperation attempt to replace Deandre Hopkins after their baffling trade with Arizona. Cobb was a great fit and worked well in the locker room, as he hoped to reunite with Mike McCarthy. But the price was simply too high for Dallas.

After hearing plenty of huge offers from other teams, Amari Cooper is staying put, and at an expensive price tag.

Now for the good news. Amari Cooper will still don the silver and blue as he agreed to a five-year, $100M contract with $60M guaranteed to stay in Dallas. And there’s more. The contract is structured great for the Dallas Cowboys. Reports confirmed that Cooper turned down an offer from the division rival Redskins that would have made him the highest-paid wideout in the NFL.

His contract structure is quite simple. His cap hit in 2020 is $12M, and it is $22M each of the other four years. There is also a clean out for Dallas after two years, that would leave behind only $6M in dead cap. Not coincidentally, Dallas’ other 1,000-yard receiver Michael Gallup will be free in two years.

Overall, the deal is a great one for Dallas as it keeps the star receiver paired with Dak Prescott. The two have had an incredible connection since he was traded to Dallas at the 2018 trade deadline. Cooper has racked up 1,914 yards and 14 touchdowns in 25 games with Dallas. That ranks fifth and first in the NFL, respectively.

With these holes to fill, it’s important not to undersell just how much work the Cowboys have cut out for them in the rest of free agency. Where do they go now?

Well, it’s important to drill down on what exactly this team needs. The defensive line room and defensive back room is reminiscent of the classic Will Smith meme of him standing in an empty room. The only real hole on offense now lies in the slot. Although, the interior offensive line could use some help too. Both could be easily replaced through the draft, especially the slot receiver given the outstanding draft class. A Day 2 or even Day 3 pick could suffice.

Dallas needs help all over its defense, including the interior defensive line, cornerback, and safety. Edge rusher help could never hurt, but the loss of Quinn will be alleviated severely when Randy Gregory makes his return now that the new CBA cites that a player cannot be suspended for smoking marijuana. It’s important not to forget just how impactful Gregory was in 2018.

There are plenty of potential free agents that could fill in nicely for Dallas. The Cowboys will have to be smart with how they spend their money, not just because of cap space, but because of compensation picks too. After losing Byron Jones and Robert Quinn, it is a real possibility that the team receives two third-round comp picks in the 2021 draft. That could be crucial in the future. The rule says that you don’t risk losing any of your comp picks if the players you acquire were either cut or acquired via trade.

Point being, Jerry and Stephen Jones need to get creative now. They demonstrated that they’re capable of doing so by swinging merely a sixth-round pick for Robert Quinn. Another example would be paying $5M on a one-year deal for Randall Cobb last offseason. Both turned out to be great acquisitions.

What can Dallas afford moving forward?

Dallas has close to $30M left in cap space and did some restructuring of La’el Collins‘ contract to create a little more room. There are plenty of options. Dallas has been linked to former Broncos cornerback Chris Harris. He won’t be cheap given the cornerback market right now, and he is best when he plays in the slot. Dallas has even been loosely linked to Jadeveon Clowney too, though it seems his price would need to come down a lot. Vikings cornerback Jayron Kearse or Chargers safety Adrian Phillips also makes a lot of sense for the secondary.

There are several cost-effective players that would absolutely help improve Dallas’s defense at a position of need and not affect the comp picks for 2021. Just a few of these names are Leonard Floyd, Snacks Harrison (one of my favorite potential targets), Linval Joseph, Desmond Trufant, or Margus Hunt.

These are just a few options Dallas has to fill its many holes on defense. After a 2019 draft class that is way behind the curve,  the 2020 Draft is all the more crucial. After a rocky start to free agency for the Dallas Cowboys, it’s time to get creative. A Super Bowl window is not open forever.

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