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Cowboys 2021 free agent carousel: A look at the cornerbacks

Dallas has a slew of decisions to make regarding their upcoming free agents. As of now, no position has more expiring contracts than cornerback.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive air-raid brigades have definitively become first-rate options for most of the NFL’s 32 franchises. Passing is now the name of the game for offensive attacks, and a sport that’s long been known as a battle of the ground-and-pound – predominantly reliant on bruising running backs for advantages – has evolved into a full-on, pitch-and-catch free-for-all.

The league’s most potent offenses are generally its most efficient passing strategists. On the contrary, its worst defenses are pedestrian when it comes to stopping said approach more often than not.

The latter describes the Dallas Cowboys. The boys in the Big D performed quite poorly when it came to protecting their end zone. They were notoriously meager in run-stopping efforts, finishing second to dead last in rushing yards surrendered in 2020. And while they weren't nearly as putrid against quarterback drop-backs, they still faltered tremendously en route to relinquishing 34 total scores through the air which tied them for the third-worst mark league-wide.

Now, the Dallas offense projects to begin the ‘21 campaign substantially more effective with the reemergence of an able-bodied Dak Prescott, which, of course, predicates the urgency of improved offensive line play as well.

But their defense is where things begin to get tricky. They’ve got a new coordinator on that side of the ball. The team inked a deal with Dan Quinn after cutting ties with an unimpressive Mike Nolan just one year into his tenure.

They’ve got a decent draft slot. And there’s a litany of free agent prospects that would froth over the possibility of opening Jerry Jones’ checkbook. What Jones and his staff decide to do with fund allocations is a ruminating question-mark, but it will undoubtedly have monumental repercussions on the ‘Boys fortunes next year. And the first pitstop he’ll have to make on his road to desired Super Bowl success, will be right in his own backyard with the men who most recently called his stadium, aptly named “Jerry’s world,” their own home.

The most important conversations he may have are about none other than those responsible for the one of the defense’s glaring weaknesses: cornerback.

Let’s take a look at who those names are.

Jourdan Lewis

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Jourdan Lewis didn’t have to undergo much of a color scheme change from his college to pro uniform after finding out he’d be Dallas’ third-round selection in 2017. A member of the Michigan Wolverines during his college tenure, Lewis turned countless heads after skyrocketing to the top of several scouting boards due to a furious display of lockdown coverage and elite quickness.

His individual trophy case was a precious metals exhibit, and included a heralded Tatum-Woodson nod in 2016 for the nation’s best defensive back, plus a first-team All-Big 10 award.

Cornerback performance posed a massive deficit for Dallas in comparison to some of the league’s more resolute shut-down types back then, and Lewis, along with fellow classmate Chidobe Awuzie, were expected to take the group’s reigns and spearhead them to future success.

It didn’t take long for Lewis to see in-game action, and before long he was in full control over starter’s responsibilities after poor outings from the guys in front of him.

He lost the job in 2018, but regained it in ‘19, making five starts at right corner and recording two interceptions, before swelling his game’s started total to 13 in 2020. That year, though, was also the first year in which he failed to swipe a takeaway.

This past year was Lewis’ last of his four-year, $3.24 million contract.

Chidobe Awuzie

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Awuzie, like Lewis, carried colossal expectations after a consistently excellent four-year showing at the University of Colorado.

Awuize heard his name called just one round before Lewis, and like his counterpart, was thrust into immediate action as Dallas desperately scoured for answers to their secondary troubles. 2018 and 2019 were his peak years as a member of the squad. He started 14 games in 2018, and came up with one interception while establishing himself as a tackling threat, leading or assisting on 71.

In 2019, he started all 16 matchups. Awuzie was a stalwart in one-on-one cover scenarios, batting away 14 pass attempts, and registering another interception. He also finished with 79 tackles to go with a lone fumble recovery.

But a hamstring injury set his progression back a mile in a rocky 2020. Awuzie appeared in just eight contests (starting in six), and while he was able to muster a takeaway, his takedown efficiency, agility and speed all took hits as he struggled to recapture his footing.

He’s still got ample gas left in the tank at 25, but only time holds the answer to whether or not it will be used in D-Town.

CJ Goodwin

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Goodwin rounds out the trifecta of incumbent unemployed cover-men. His career games total (63) is mote than both Lewis’ and Awuzie’s, but the journeyman corner has suited up for four different franchises. He’s made just one start.

Goodwin’s NFL movie began its opening credits in Pittsburgh back in 2014. His initial on-screen emergence wasn’t the prettiest of scenes, to say the least. In fact, Goodwin masqueraded as an extra to most NFL scouts prior to his draft year in 2014, after spending two virtually unknown stints at Bethany College and Fairmont State University – both division two programs.

His position: get this – wide receiver.

And there he stayed throughout college, rounding out his collegiate tenure at California University of Pennsylvania before going undrafted in that year’s selection period. Months later, NFL dreams slowly dissipating away, Goodwin received a phone call from the Steelers, and at the recommendation of team legend Mel Blount (whom Goodwin had worked for as a farmhand during his younger days), put pen to paper on a three-year contract.

His term with the Steel Curtain wouldn't last long and Goodwin was picked up by Atlanta (where he converted to defense), before bouncing around through New York’s, San Francisco’s, and Cincinnati’s practice squads.

He finally landed in Dallas in 2018, and remained there through this past season, tallying 19 tackles as a backup corner, and carving out a niche for himself as a heady special teams playmaker.

The Decisions

So what does Mr. Jones do?

And which of these men do you want to see back in town, if any?