Opposing Views: Was The Trade-Up For Morris Claiborne Worth It?

Tom Pennington

We've assigned two of our writers, Archie Barberio and OCC, the task of arguing the case for and against Morris Claiborne. Both writers get three turns each to make their case, and the BTB-community weighs in on the debate in the comments section.

This is yet another entry into our BTB-Mailbag series. Hopefully, you've been enjoying the various articles we've been kicking out in response to your great questions. Well, keep them coming! You can send us the questions in a variety of formats.

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On to this post's question!

Question: Do you consider the Morris Claiborne trade a success? Like most of us, I have great hopes for the guy, but what we gave up, while less than usual in terms of draft value, turned out to be a couple of very good players (Brockers and Wagner). Is there any truth to the "Cornerbacks have tough rookie years" meme and, finally, is Claiborne's relatively pedestrian 40yrd time a concern going forward?

We've replied to many mailbag questions like the above over the last few weeks, but today we're choosing to answer it in a different format than we've done with our past answers. What we've done today is we've assigned two writers, Archie Barberio and OCC, the task of arguing the case for and against Morris Claiborne.

Both writers get three turns each to present arguments that support their positions. You, the BTB community can weigh in on the debate in the comments section.

So today, it's Archie vs OCC: Was the trade-up for Morris Claiborne worth it?

Point: Archie

Counterpoint: OCC

Stay true to your draft board, but if you can land an elite talent go for it.

On principle, you shouldn't give up a pick in the top 50.

Normally I would agree with OCC that trading away a pick that high isn't the best course of action, but when you can land arguably the best defensive talent in the entire draft you go for it.

Had Claiborne stayed at LSU for his senior season, where would have been drafted this year? It's possible that Claiborne could have been considered the best player in the 2013 NFL Draft and been drafted somewhere in the top three.

Of course, that second round pick could have added another player with starter potential, but nothing is guaranteed and you can't fault a war room for going hard after a player they deemed to be one of the best players in the entire draft.

I don't necessarily believe the Cowboys felt that Claiborne was going to be the missing piece to their problems on defense, but they saw an opportunity to get a player they absolutely loved and they pulled the trigger.

A team like the Cowboys needs more quality starters, not less. With their first and second round picks, especially in the top 50 of a draft, teams should reasonably expect to draft starters. When they fail to do so, they usually have to fill those voids with expensive free agents. When you give up that second round pick, you’re more than likely substituting a starter playing on a rookie contract with a free agent playing on a cap-unfriendly free agent contract.

Teams know this of course, but they do it anyway, often because they believe they are just one player away – yet they almost never are. Atlanta believed Julio Jones was their missing piece and traded away a fortune for Jones in 2011. Jones wasn’t the missing piece. The Cowboys thought they’d turn around their defense with Claiborne. They didn’t.

The only time you make a trade up like that is when you’re trying to get your franchise quarterback. A franchise quarterback is of such paramount importance to a football team that there is almost no price not worth paying to get your guy.

Injuries to the defense prevented Claiborne and the rest of the secondary from playing their aggressive scheme.

The Cowboys could be much further along had they stayed put.

Back in the 2011 season, Jerry Jones watched his secondary get torn to shreds and play a large role in the loss to the New York Giants in Week 17 that sent the Cowboys home packing. Jerry and company then devoted the entire offseason to cleaning up their secondary, and that started with the cornerbacks.

Brandon Carr cost a lot of money and Claiborne technically cost us another good player in the second round, but the duo did give us flashes of what good cornerbacks can do for your defense.

We all want to see Claiborne deliver more interceptions and turnovers, but all of the injuries to the defense changed the way Dallas could play defense and eliminated some of their aggressiveness.

Had our defense stayed somewhat more intact, our coverage scheme would have put Claiborne into his press coverage, man-to-man shutdown role.

Word from Valley Ranch after the 2012 draft was that the Cowboys would likely have picked DT Michael Brockers and ILB Bobby Wagner had they not traded up for Claiborne. Brockers started 12 games for the Rams, collected four sacks and was a major upgrade for the Rams. Wagner started 15 games for the Seahawks and recorded 140 tackles and three interceptions. That’s two bona fide NFL starters right there.

Also, think about those two position designations: Defensive Tackle and Inside Linebacker. Think about how the Cowboys’ 2012 fate could have been different had they had those two guys – those two position designations alone tell me the Cowboys would probably not have lost their last two games had they had those two guys. I can't say the same thing about Claiborne.

And now that the Cowboys are transitioning to a 4-3 defense, imagine how much further along they could be in the transition with a top tier defensive tackle and a third linebacker.

As a rookie, Claiborne played good football at one of the hardest positions in sports.

At best, 2012 was a wasted year for Claiborne.

After Dallas made the trade for Claiborne, the expectations were set high. Claiborne missed a lot of important time during the offseason, and he battled a few injuries. That missed time could have completely derailed his season, but Claiborne stayed mentally tough and still played at a respectable level for a rookie cornerback. .

Statistically Claiborne didn't wow, but outside of the game at Philly and Atlanta, I really believe that Claiborne played very good football. The 2012 passing defense and Claiborne didn't grade out favorably, but I really don't believe that the Cowboys were abused in the passing game like they were in 2011.

Towards the end of the season, Claiborne's confidence was soaring. When you combine a full offseason, a year of NFL experience and his talent level, then you have the makings for a huge sophomore season.

I am a huge believer in Claiborne. He has the character, hunger and drive that is needed to succeed in the NFL, and his physical attributes are off the charts. Last year I guaranteed that Claiborne would become a lockdown cornerback who generates a lot of interceptions and I still believe "Pick Six" will become that type of player for the Dallas Cowboys.

The 2012 Cowboys with Claiborne ranked 29th in defensive passer rating with 94.7, even worse than the 2011 Cowboys without Claiborne (88.4 defensive passer rating). Sure, secondary coach Jerome Henderson said that Claiborne’s offseason wrist surgery impacted his rookie year significantly: he wasn’t able to participate in OTAs and wasn’t able to spend enough time in the weight room to gain NFL-level strength.

But even with that handicap, I expected more from “the highest-rated DB since Deion Sanders”. His completion rate against of 69.6% ranks him 99th out of 113 qualifying corners last year and his defensive passer rating of 107.8 ranks him 94th. At best, 2012 was a wasted year for Claiborne.

Like every Cowboys fan, I’m hoping that Claiborne will turn out to be the great shutdown corner for which the Cowboys traded up. And I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that the decision to move up will pay off starting this year. But with the evidence we have before us right now, it’s hard to argue for that trade-up.

Please, please, please prove me wrong, Morris.

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