Cowboys free agents most likely to depart: Byron Jones is talented, but Dallas has other roster needs to address - Calvin Watkins, Dallas Morning News
Will the Cowboys be looking for a new CB1 in 2020?
No. 2: CB Byron Jones
2019 impact: He was the best corner on the field for the Cowboys. Yet, Jones had no interceptions and nine pass breakups in 14 games played. How do you quantify his salary considering his efforts on the field?
When the Cowboys talk about re-signing their own free agents, Jones’ name doesn’t come up. He’s going to have a strong market and could command a salary of $10 million to $12 million per season. Is that too much for the Cowboys?
Two stats to keep in mind when it comes to Jones: He missed just one tackle in 2019 and quarterbacks had an 87.7 rating against him, according to pro-football-reference.com.
Why Jones is unlikely to return: It’s all about the money. Jones is a talented player who can play in man and zone coverages. Yes, quarterbacks didn’t target him as much last season, but when they did, it was a difficult task. The Cowboys are just not going to cut Jones a huge check to remain. It’s hard to believe the Cowboys will let Jones average $12 million a season at corner when they have to pay QB Dak Prescott and WR Amari Cooper to large contracts.
Tight ends anyone?
Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
Eric Ebron is a name that may cause some to scoff as he’s generally regarded as someone who has struggled with drops. And that’s a valid concern. Among players with at least 26 targets in 2019, Ebron had the fourth-highest drop rate among 44 qualifying tight ends per Pro Football Focus. That said, in 2018 with twice as many targets, Ebron had a better drop rate than All-Pro tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs Travis Kelce.
On the flip side, he’s been a tremendous red-zone threat the last couple of years for the Indianapolis Colts and is someone who would be a tremendous asset to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing attack.
Back in 2018, Ebron led the position with 13 touchdown receptions and was fifth in the NFL in first down receptions among tight ends. That while Andrew Luck was throwing him the ball. In 2019, he wasn’t so fortunate with Jacoby Brissett starting all 16 games.
Ebron was also limited to just 11 games in 2019 and posted his worst stat line since his rookie season in 2014.
He’s got some flexibility to play in-line or in the slot, which combined with Jarwin could make for a dynamic duo in 12 personnel groupings.
Could some Cowboys free agents be on the move in 2020?
Christian Covington, DT (UFA)
A hopeful free-agent signing last offseason, Chris Covington did little to help secure the interior of the Cowboys defensive line in 2019. He recorded 28 total tackles, one sack, and a pass deflection in six starts last season. Covington proved to be just an average defender on a defense that regressed and was in desperate need of true difference-makers.
Covington could easily be re-signed and become a foundational part of this defensive line moving forward under new coordinator Mike Nolan. But with former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli no longer in Dallas, expect there to be several roster changes to go along with a change in philosophy. Covington and several defensive tackles could fall victim to that.
Sean Lee is an insurance policy the Cowboys absolutely must renew - Danny Phantom, Blogging the Boys
Will Sean Lee return in 2020? Should Sean Lee return in 2020?
The Cowboys need to be prepared in case depth at linebacker is needed; and it usually is. The linebacker position is one of the more brutal positions in the NFL, and the defense will need to have a reliable group available. With players like Joe Thomas, Justin March, and even newcomer Malcolm Smith all free agents, Dallas is going to need players to round out their depth chart. Getting Lee signed will help alleviate these worries.
Bringing back Lee is not without risks, but these risks are lessened with a lower price. It also doesn’t hurt that the team has done a great job managing his work load with his practice routines and extra days off. Playing behind the main starters will also aid in helping preserve his health.
If the team can put together another incentive-laced deal that puts more money in his pocket if the team calls upon him to log additional snaps, it could provide the defense with a little bit of an insurance policy.
The NFL’s top 10 off-ball LBs entering 2020: Do the Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch belong in this group? - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
Are LVE and Jaylon Smith in the top 10 off-the-ball linebackers in the NFL?
Where are Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch?
After playing at an elite level in 2018, both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch took huge steps back last season, putting together disappointing seasons for different reasons.
Vander Esch was seemingly hindered by a neck injury that cut his season short. When he was on the field, he was a poor tackler, missing 12 times. He struggled to get off blocks much more than he did as a rookie, which is probably partly due to the neck issue. Hopefully, with a full recovery, Vander Esch can return to his 2018 form.
While Smith didn’t play as poorly as a vocal segment of the Cowboys’ fan base will have you believe, it’s fair to say his play also took a step back. The problem with Smith was there was much more variance to his play in 2019 than there had been before. The big-time plays were still there, evidenced by the fact he finished ninth among off-ball linebackers in stops (47), but there were many more frustrating plays mixed in where Smith struggled to get off his blocks or was slow to get off his spot. He especially struggled against play-action, as he had a hard time changing direction and bailing to coverage after stepping forward to fill against the run.
It also should be noted that Vander Esch and Smith’s disappointing play was influenced by ineffective play from Dallas’ defensive tackles, especially against the run. The defensive tackles did a poor job of keeping blockers off the linebackers and failed to take advantage of their one-on-one matchups in the run game, which is the biggest reason why Dallas struggled to defend the run for much of the season.
It’s raise season in Dallas.
The salary cap is a fickle thing. Capable franchises are able to navigate the rough waters in a number of ways, structuring contracts to maximize the maneuverability of the roster. Some things can’t be avoided. They are also first world problems. In this instance it’s the proven-performer escalator clause that gives bumps to players picked in the third-round or later who meet the required amount of snaps.
For the Dallas Cowboys, this means their salary cap just got a bit more tight. ESPN’s Todd Archer is reporting that defensive backs Xavier Woods and Jourdan Lewis just got $1,500,000 raises. This news won’t come as a shock to the front office in Dallas. It also won’t shock anybody who follows along with Over the Cap, who had this pegged with their projections.
Is the end of Chris Jones near?
Nick: I think the Cowboys need to get better at the punter position. Jones has been here for a while now, and I’m not sure he was fully healthy last season. Still, his numbers decreased last year, which isn’t always easy to dissect for a punter. But for seven straight years, Jones averaged at least 44 yards per punt and last year dipped to 41.6. It was also the first time in seven years he didn’t have at least one punt over 60 yards. Again, it’s not always an exact science to study stats for a punter because sometimes you don’t want them to kick it as far as they can. But if you’re on the eye test, it still seems like there is improvement needed at punter.