The Dallas Cowboys lost a really good football player when Byron Jones left in free agency to sign with the Miami Dolphins. It’s hard to lose a first-round investment who earned All-Pro honors, but for the price he commanded on the open market this offseason, it would’ve been even harder to pony up that kind of cash. Jones is now the highest paid corner in the NFL.
We’ll have to wait and see if the Cowboys made the right choice with Jones, but the team may have been able to avoid this problem if they would’ve locked him up before he hit the market. The combination of wasting a couple years at safety and not properly evaluating his ability earlier in his rookie deal all led to a heavily inflated 2020 cost that the Cowboys opted to not incur.
While those carrots are cooked, the front office should be looking ahead to see if any of next year’s free agents are worth re-upping. ESPN recently discussed how the 2021 offseason decisions could be a little tricky, and it’s not inconceivable that this time next year no players are left from the 2017 draft class.
From the nine players the team drafted in 2017, only four remain. Noah Brown brings so much uncertainty as we haven’t got a good look at his value to the team. He made the squad his rookie season due to his blocking abilities. Despite a crowded wide receiver group the team hung on to six receivers that year, but injuries in each of the last two seasons has seen him miss significant time. Even if he stays healthy, makes the team, and plays well - his second contract price isn’t going to be anything to keep the front office up at night.
The same is not true for the other three players - Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods. All of them were key defensive pieces in the secondary last season. Awuzie played more defensive snaps than anyone on the team last year. When you combine special teams, no defensive player logged more reps last season than Woods. Even Lewis, who was the team’s no. 4 corner on the depth chart, saw significant action due to an injury to Anthony Brown.
All three of these players are valuable, but how valuable? In Todd Archer’s article, he states that he knows a longtime agent who is rather accurate at predicting upcoming contracts. Let’s see what he has these three defensive backs at and determine whether or not the Cowboys should re-sign them.
Chidobe Awuzie: $7 to $8 million
With Taco Charlton released, Awuzie is now the team’s highest draft resource remaining from this class, but is he worth that much? We have been waiting for a breakout season, but it hasn’t happened. We talk about Byron Jones’ lack of interceptions, but Awuzie has just one pick in each of his first three seasons in the league. And last year, he was benched in a crucial game late in the season with the division on the line. Awuzie is a good corner, but what he’s given the team isn’t a rare skill that can’t be found through the draft.
Buy or Sell? If the team could work a similar type of deal they did with Anthony Brown, they should be all over signing Awuzie before the start of the new season. Brown’s deal is three years for $15 million, but it’s really a two-year deal with an option for a third. If Awuzie does more of what he’s been doing or shows any type of improvement, the Cowboys would be getting a good deal, but would not likely be able to afford him next offseason when 31 other teams are vying for his services.
Jourdan Lewis: $5 million
Lewis was a solid pick in the third round. He’s played in all but two games of his three-year career so far. He looked good the first part of his rookie season and even made seven starts that year, but struggled as the season went on. The team used him on the outside out of need, and that isn’t his best spot. His playing time got reduced the following season when Jones moved to corner and Brown earned the slot corner spot. Lewis is viewed as a bigger playmaker in terms of taking the ball away, but he’s only has one more interception than Awuzie. They just stand out more because a couple of them have come in big moments in the game, and he’s done it on fewer snaps.
Buy or Sell? Being limited on the outside takes a lot of the appeal away from having Lewis on the roster. With Brown extended for the next three seasons, it’s hard imagining where Lewis’ value is. There are people who favor Lewis over Brown, but I’m not one of them. Let Lewis’ contract play out and cash in on the quality the draft offers with a cheap four-year rookie deal.
Xavier Woods: $9 million
If it wasn’t for the sixth-round selection of Woods, the 2017 draft would be viewed as an even greater disappointment than it currently is. In a recent re-draft by NFL.com, Woods was selected 27th overall, one spot ahead of the actual Taco pick (Awuzie was taken 31st). He’s been the team’s starting safety over the past two years, and has five career interceptions. If you’re keeping score at home, that is the most of these three defensive backs.
Buy or Sell? Similar to Awuzie, the team should get ahead of this thing and extend him before he prices himself out of Dallas. The Cowboys haven’t been real serious in addressing safety in recent drafts, and free agent Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is only here on a one-year deal. Woods still has some upside potential and it would be nice to see him stick around.
There is an expectations for most, if not all, of these guys to be gone. The good news is the team has two more drafts and one more year of free agency to address these needs. There’s a dozen or so quality corners in the upcoming draft, and it would be surprising if at least one defensive back wasn’t selected by the Cowboys within the first two days. So, in conclusion...
- Awuzie - let him walk unless you can buy low and extend him before the 2020 season.
- Lewis - let him test the market next offseason and only bring him back if you can land him on a discounted deal.
- Woods - let him walk unless you can buy low and extend him before the 2020 season.
Which of these players would you like to see get second contracts with the Cowboys?