It seems like every once in a while, the Cowboys decide to spend significant resources on the cornerback position as they look for ways to improve their defense. You might remember a year where the team signed a veteran cornerback to a lucrative $50 million deal and then turn around and acquired another corner in the first round of the draft. You might also recall that the big money contract never produced the dividends the team was hoping for. And all the while, the young corner wasn't able to live up to the teams expectations either.
If it sounds like I am describing Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, it would be understandable to think that as these two fit the profile, however, a couple other corners also fit the bill. In 2008, the Cowboys gave Terence Newman a six-year, $50 million deal. During that same year, they would draft Mike Jenkins in the first round. The Cowboys were determined to strengthen their secondary, but these two investments wouldn't pan out. The Cowboys would waive Newman and eat $4.8 million in dead money. Jenkins didn't get cut, but the team let him walk once he played out his rookie contract.
After that experience, the Cowboys turned around and hit the reset button four years later. In 2012, Brandon Carr would get the $50 million contract and the team would again take another first-round corner when they drafted Morris Claiborne. While these moves seem eerily similar to the ones in 2008, they offered up some differences that the team hoped would produce better results. Carr was three years younger than Newman (at the time of their deals) so they would be able to get more of his good years out of the deal before he started to decline. As for Claiborne, the team dealt away their second-round pick in order to move up to select him with the sixth-overall pick in the draft. The Cowboys were a little more aggressive this time as they tried to lock down two strong pass defenders.
But while the names were different, the results were the same. Carr and Claiborne have both been disappointing when you consider how much the team invested in them.
As the 2016 offseason begun, once again it looked as if the Cowboys could pull off another cornerback reboot. It seemed highly unlikely that the team would pay Brandon Carr his $9.1 million base salary for the upcoming season. He didn't have a single interception in 2015. Or 2014. While fans have been calling for him to be cut for a while now, the dead money hit was always too substantial, however this was the year that it could finally be done without stinging so much. Not only that, but there were some talented corners on the free agent market. From Janoris Jenkins to the late-add of Josh Norman, the opportunity was there for the Cowboys to snag one of these top corners. But it didn't happen.
Most fans figured there was a better way to obtain talent at the position as the best college defensive back was staring the team right in the face in the draft. Many draft experts were projecting that the Cowboys would select Jalen Ramsey with the fourth-overall pick. But it didn't happen.
So here we are stuck with the same cornerbacks the team had in 2012. Instead of cutting Carr, the team was able to convince him to take a pay cut and reduce his cap hit by $3.6 million. The team also gave Claiborne a second contract, albeit a very short-term one. The Cowboys will keep Mo around at a 2016 cost of $3 million. Rather than doing another remodel job, the team is rolling with these guys for another season. And this might not be a bad thing. While fans would love to see more production (like say, an interception maybe?) from these guys, there are some reasons to think things could get better.
While his play has been less-than-exhilarating up to this point, Brandon Carr is one of the good-guys. He's a high character guy who does a lot of good things off the field. He has been nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for the last two years. Carr has created the Carr Cares Foundation that helps motivate young adults become capable members of society.
"Ultimately it's part of your legacy - combining on and off the field," Carr said. "But truly, off the field is where you make your mark, I believe. Changing lives, leaving that lasting impression on people. They see me with a helmet on and think of you as an athlete, but we all have passion and things we like to inspire others with. We care about communities and making impact on them in a positive way."
It's not often a player will agree to a pay cut like that, but Carr wants to remain on the Cowboys. He loves his teammates, he loves the Dallas area, and he still has some gas left in the tank. While the team hasn't been able to count on him to take the ball away, they can always count on him to be on the field. Carr is very durable and has played in every one of the 128 games of his career. And when a player is doing so many things right, it's opening the door for better output. He has the ability to be a solid contributor on this team. Do you remember the 2014 playoffs when Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson lit him up? Yeah, me either.
Claiborne is not so resilient. He has missed games in every one of his four seasons in the league. If there is a bright spot for Mo going forward, it is that he managed to play 11 games last season, which is more than he's played in each of the previous two seasons. And while he was initially brought to Dallas to be the #1 corner, he'll play behind Carr and Orlando Scandrick as the teams #3 corner. Claiborne has bulked up a bit and this could help him stay on the field.
The Cowboys didn't make a big splash to upgrade the cornerback position this offseason, but sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. And for the Cowboys, they have other things brewing elsewhere on the roster so they feel content going with Carr and Claiborne. They know the system, they know what's expected of them, and they both want to be in Dallas. There's an opportunity here to surprise some people and you can bet both these player will have something to prove in 2016.