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Cowboys free agency focus: Could Chris Harris Jr. help soften blow of potentially losing Byron Jones?

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The Cowboys are going to have to look for help in the event they lose Byron Jones, would CB Chris Harris Jr. fit?

NFL: Pro Bowl Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

[The Cowboys have a long list of their own free agents to consider but reality is that several will not return. In this series, we’ll look at the many free agents set to hit the open market in 2020 and if any of those might be of interest to the Cowboys. Below is a list of profiles from this series:]

DT Mike Daniels

SAF Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

SAF Karl Joseph

DT Andrew Billings

TE Eric Ebron

DE Vic Beasley

The Cowboys would love to keep Byron Jones but probably not at the numbers that are being projected in free agency. With focus squarely on two of their biggest offensive stars, Byron Jones will certainly hit the open market and he’s likely to price himself out of Dallas. Among Cowboys fans and media alike, it’s a split-vote as some believe they can move on, while others believe they will regret not re-signing the Pro Bowl corner.

Regardless, the Cowboys have some questions to answer at cornerback and rumors are that they have interest in a former Broncos CB, Chris Harris Jr.:

Chris Harris Jr. signed as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos back in 2011. Harris Jr. fought through his first training camp to earn the fourth cornerback spot, he would finish his rookie season with 70+ tackles and an interception. In the next two seasons, Harris Jr. would become a reliable option, starting 27 of 31 games, he also notched 109 tackles, 23 pass breakups, and six interceptions. In 2014, he would make his first of three consecutive Pro Bowls after recording 55 tackles, 17 pass breakups, and added three more interceptions. From December 2013 to December 2015, he had not given up a single touchdown catch.

Harris Jr. was a key contributor to the Super Bowl-winning Broncos defense of 2015, where the secondary was dubbed the “No Fly Zone”. In 2015, he was Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded cornerback behind Darius Slay. In the Broncos 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50, he had five solo tackles and a sack. The following year in 2016, Harris Jr. was named First Team All-Pro and his 91.7 grade by PFF was the highest among cornerbacks, his counterpart Aqib Talib was second.

In 2017, the Broncos would struggle and miss the playoffs, but Harris Jr. would still record 40 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. After starting 12 games in 2018,he would be placed on IR with a broken fibula. This past season, he rebounded to start all 16 games, record 56 tackles, one interception, and a forced fumble. Though Chris Harris Jr. saw a dip in his takeaway production in 2019, he still showed that he’s a quality starter at cornerback. It’s just not likely that he’ll remain in Denver after nine seasons, four Pro Bowls, and three All-Pro selections.

The Denver Broncos have reportedly struck a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars sending a fourth-round pick for A.J. Bouye:

The Broncos will pay A.J. Bouye $13M per season for the remaining two year’s of his deal. Coincidentally, it’s the same amount that Harris Jr. made last season with the Broncos. Harris Jr. will have several teams that are interested in adding his services and that might drive his price up. At 30-years-old, it’s not likely that he’ll get more than a three-year deal or something that contained a club option.

Currently, Byron Jones’ market value is five-years, $71M, with an annual average of $14M per season, according to Spotrac. Chris Harris Jr.’s market value is three-years, $33M, $11M per season, so it’s substantially less of a commitment but Harris is also three-years older than Jones. It’s unclear how new DC Mike Nolan perceives Jones but he has been clear that he covets cornerbacks with ball production. That’s one area that Chris Harris Jr. has on his résumé that Byron Jones lacks. However, Byron Jones has Harris beat in several major categories:

If the Cowboys did elect to let Byron Jones go, it’s likely that they try free agency and the draft to supplement the departure. The Cowboys could bring in a player like Chris Harris Jr. but given his age, it’s just a temporary fix. Signing Harris Jr. would soften the blow of losing Byron Jones but the Cowboys would still need to look that way again in the NFL Draft to solidify the future of the cornerback position.