The Dallas Cowboys cornerback position has gone through many changes over the last few years. The team overhauled the entire secondary in 2017 and parted ways with starting outside corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. This decision was made for a handful of reasons including - salary cap savings, an upcoming deep draft class of corners, and the strong rookie season of sixth-round pick Anthony Brown that they felt could slide into one of the starting outside corner spots.
The Cowboys were able to select Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis on Day 2 of the draft. Lewis was relied on quite extensively, whereas Awuzie battled hamstring injuries early in the year. Brown struggled considerably and was benched once Awuzie was at full strength. Considering the inexperience the team had at the position, the youngsters held up pretty well.
Last year, the team was at it again making big moves. It started with the hiring of new defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard. Byron Jones was shifted from safety to corner in a move that was long overdue. He was able to earn All-Pro honors his first full season at his new position. Awuzie held down the other side of field as he showed what he can do at full strength. And Brown’s career was resurrected after becoming the team’s new slot corner. The trio combined to play a great majority of the cornerback snaps as Richard helped get the most of this group.
As great as the corners played, it was surprising to see Lewis become relegated to the bench. He only played in 187 defensive snaps last season, which is far less than the 746 he logged in 2017. It’s no secret that Richard prefers larger corners, but did Lewis’ 5’10” height really make that much of a difference? Considering the emphasis Richard puts on impeding the path of the receiver, size definitely matters. He completely revitalized the Seattle Seahawks secondary with the Legion of Boom where tall, lengthy players where the staple of his cornerback group. David Helman over at the Mothership wrote how the Richard effect has a considerable impact on the corner position.
Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are the obvious headliners. They stand 6’3 and 6’4, respectively, and they were the original duo that helped the Seahawks into the league’s elite.
During Richard’s tenure there, the Seahawks drafted guys like Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Tharold Simon and Mike Tyson. They haven’t all been huge, but the vast majority of them have measured at least 6’0.
Perhaps most importantly, they’ve all boasted arm lengths of at least 32 inches.
So, if 6’0” with at least 32” arms is the benchmark, what did Richard inherit in Dallas when he showed up?
Only one guy, Byron Jones, met the criteria. When you combine first-round talent with the measurement Richard looks for - you get an All-Pro corner.
But the other players on the roster don’t make the cut. Awuzie satisfies the height requirement, but comes up a little short with his arms.
Richard has been with the Cowboys for two drafts now, yet the team has only selected one corner in that time with this year’s fifth-round selection of Michael Jackson. They’ve also signed three undrafted free agent corners in Charvarius Ward (2018), Donovan Olumba (2018), and Chris Westry (2019). How do these guys hold up against the height and arm test?
All of them fit the bill for what Richard looks for.
None of these guys are high draft resources, but neither were Richard Sherman (5th round), Brandon Browner (undrafted), Byron Maxwell (6th round), or Jeremy Lane (6th round). It’s not unimaginable that one of these late-round editions for the Cowboys could turn into a strong contributor at the cornerback position.
Ward is gone now, but he was a promising player coming out of camp last year. He would’ve likely been the Cowboys #5 CB had he not been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for offensive line depth. Ward played 139 snaps for the Chiefs last year. The Cowboys were healthy at corner last year and didn’t have a need for a fifth corner. C.J. Goodwin was the only other CB who saw playing time on defense and he only had three snaps.
The Cowboys main three corners should remain in tact for the 2019 season, but the future is a little murky. Jones and Brown are free agents after the season. The team is likely to lose at least one of those guys. And it feels as if Lewis is just a fish out of water in Richard’s system. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him either be traded or phased out completely. This could open the door for some of Richard’s newcomers to etch out a role on the team. Here is what the Cowboys cornerback situation looks like right now:
It’s not hard to see that the cost, age, and length of service available has a certain appeal to it, but if Richard continues to capitalize on the size of these new corners, that could give them an added advantage as well. If a couple of these bigger corners start impressing in camp, they could find themselves on the roster come September.