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Cowboys 2020 free agency: The tricky decision on how much to pay Byron Jones

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This one is going to go down to the wire.

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency is going to be a uneasy time for fans of the Dallas Cowboys as there are a number of players hitting the open market. Big names like Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are at the top of the list, but there are a mountain of other guys who have been key contributors over the last few seasons who will also need new contracts this offseason.

One guy that always appears to be the odd man out when it comes to getting some of the pie is All Pro cornerback Byron Jones. The Connecticut standout was the team’s first-round selection back in 2017. Over the first three seasons of his career, Jones was viewed as a solid player, but nothing special. The team played him out of position as he held down the starting safety job from 2016-2017. Luckily, the coaching staff recognized their mistake and moved him to corner in 2018. Jones responded in a big way earning second-team All-Pro honors in his first full season at cornerback. He wasted no time establishing himself as one of the league’s top corners and ranked in the top 10 in several cornerback categories according to Pro Football Focus.

Jones didn’t take too kindly to quarterbacks targeting him, as he recorded 10 total pass breakups, which tied for the 10th-most among cornerbacks last season. On top of that, Jones also allowed a catch percentage of just 53.6% — 14th at the position — and a passer rating of just 85.5, ranking 41st out of 131 qualifiers.

His per-snap metrics are also off the charts, as he allowed a reception just once every 16.5 cover snaps, ranking eighth among cornerbacks, and he allowed only 0.79 yards per cover snap, tying for 12th.

Jones followed that year with more of the same this season. Once again, he didn’t take the ball away, yet he was constantly pestering receivers showing that his 2018 season was no fluke.

While Jones is a player the Cowboys would love to have back in the fold for the 2020 season, there are some roadblocks standing in the way. Yes, they have to find a way to pay Prescott and Cooper as the front office has made it clear that signing those guys are the team’s top offseason priorities. And it’s possible the team makes a serious bid to keep edge rusher Robert Quinn after a great performance last year. The team traded away some cheap draft capital to land him for the 2019 season, but they may be looking to cash in on a few more years of his services if the two sides can work out a deal.

Things might be a little trickier for Jones. It’s early, and we don’t know what he’ll demand in the open market, but there’s a chance it’ll be more than the Cowboys are willing to shell out to keep him in Dallas. For starters, the cornerback market is rather lean in talent this year, all the more increasing Jones’ stock. He’s the top guy on the list. Many other players like Cliff Harris or Ronald Darby are guys who are either up there in age or players that just haven’t lived up to their potential. With Jones, you’re getting a player with proven ability to be an effective corner in this league, but is that worth elite corner money?

The Cowboys may look at this and say, no. Each year, they give us the same song and dance about how they would love to re-sign a beloved player, only to find out later the weren’t even close to challenging offers from other teams. Cole Beasley is a latest example. The Cowboys de facto GM, Will McClay appears to already be setting the table for such a predicament.

”It’s going to be a tough deal,” said vice president of personnel Will McClay on Wednesday. “It’s the NFL. You have your quarterback you have to pay, you have a receiver, you have good players. And when you have good players, you have to figure out how to pay them or how to survive.”

The Cowboys can pay who they want to pay as a lack of funds is not going to be keeping them from retaining a good player. What will stand in the way; however, is how they value them. Quinn may get re-signed because his asking price may match how much the team values him. If the market bumps up Jones’ price, the Cowboys may then look for ways to survive.

One of those ways could be to look to the draft. The Cowboys sit in a unique position when it comes to college corners. They are too far back to land the nation’s best corner Jeffrey Okudah. Additionally, the next tier of players like Kristian Fulton, Trevon Diggs, and C.J. Anderson may not be the best players available on their board when pick 17 rolls around. If you start looking at the next group - Damon Arnette, A.J. Terrell, and Jeff Gladney, it’s not unreasonable to think one of these guys make it to Dallas in the second round at pick no. 51.

The Cowboys also have both Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis under contract for another year, so they’re not in full-on desperation mode to get a corner. And don’t be surprised if the Cowboys do some free agent shopping of their own as they look for good values to fill up their position depth pot holes.

Jones is a very good corner. He doesn’t take the ball away like you’d hope from one of the game’s elite, so it’s understandable that some teams will be a little apprehensive when opening up their wallets. The only question is - will the Cowboys be one of those teams?

If the team can get a reasonable deal for Jones, bringing him back would be ideal, but it’s possible that won’t be the scenario facing the team in a couple months. Yesterday, I polled Twitter to see how much fans would be willing to divvy up to keep Jones, and with over 3,000 votes, here is where they currently stand...

What about you? Where do you stand on this issue?

Poll

How would you handle Byron Jones if you were the Cowboys front office in that scenario?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Pony up the cash, quality corners are just too hard to come by!
    (493 votes)
  • 52%
    Got to be careful with our cap space, let him walk.
    (550 votes)
1043 votes total Vote Now