It seems like only yesterday that the Dallas Cowboys remodeled their entire secondary group. After letting Barry Church, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne leave in free agency, the Cowboys looked to a rich draft class of defensive backs to reload. This led to the selections of Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods in the 2017 NFL Draft.
This turned out to be a wise move as they not only upgraded their talent, but they did so with a savings of over $16 million for the 2017 season.
This new secondary helped the Cowboys improve from 6.2 yards per attempt in 2016 (ranked 14th) to 5.7 yards per attempt in 2017 (8th). In fact, it was their lowest passing yards per attempt since the 2008 season where the team had Terence Newman, Anthony Henry, and Ken Hamlin roaming the secondary.
It’s hard to believe that four years have passed, and all three of these defensive backs will now enter free agency. It’s possible that all three of them find new homes as outside teams are willing to spend more than the Cowboys to secure their services. The team’s highest draft resource spent on a defensive back that year was used for Awuzie, so today we’ll examine if the Cowboys should re-sign their veteran corner.
Games started: 6
Passes defended: 7
Awuzie got the introduction of all introductions when Drew Pearson announced that he would be the Cowboys second-round pick (60th overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft. He only started six games that year as hamstring injuries crimped his progress. He played well with what he was given. The corner group was solid as a whole thanks to the final year of contributions of Orlando Scandrick, but it was also the year we learned that neither Anthony Brown or Jourdan Lewis were equipped to handle outside corner duties.
Games started: 14
Passes defended: 11
After the team finally realized that Byron Jones should be playing cornerback, Awuzie joined Jones to form a very reliable tandem. While the Cowboys offense struggled mightily before Amari Cooper showed up, the defense held things together and finished with the sixth-fewest points allowed. They didn’t take the ball away, but the team of Jones, Awuzie, and Brown in the slot proved themselves as one of the most smothering groups in the league.
Games started: 16
Passes defended: 14
Awuzie continued to do more of the same the following season. After an impressive 11 pass break ups the previous season, he upped his total to 14 in 2019. In that two-year span, he was a pass defending machine.
Chidobe Awuzie ranks 2nd in forced incompletions (31) since 2018— PFF (@PFF) August 24, 2020
Who said DBs can't catch?? ️ ️ pic.twitter.com/lkgnZ4n7PH
While we have to tip our cap to Awuzie for always being in the grill of his man, he never could capitalize on his coverage skills by coming away with picks. It was infuriating to watch him constantly have his back turned away from ball, giving him zero chance to make a play.
Games started: 6
Passes defended: 5
For whatever reason, buzz started generating that Awuzie could get moved to safety under the new coaching regime, but ultimately nothing ever came of that. Similar to his rookie year, a hamstring injury sidelined him for part of the season. He was solid, but did show a hint of being more of a liability than in previous years. Thanks to advanced stats from Pro Football Reference, we can see that he had his worst season in terms of the following cornerback statistics:
The Cowboys defense was just terrible as a whole, but Awuzie’s yards per target and opposing QB rating was the lowest of the four main corners who played this season (with Trevon Diggs, Brown, and Lewis).
So, what should the Cowboys do with Awuzie?
Recently, Pro Football Focus had him listed as the seventh best free agent cornerback, and 43rd ranked free agent overall. They predict the Cowboys will re-sign him by signing him to the following deal:
Prediction: Cowboys sign Awuzie for three years, $27M ($9M APY): $15.5M total guaranteed, $10M fully guaranteed at signing.
The numbers seem about right. Awuzie offers a high floor and is more serviceable than a lot of corners in the league. That’s the exact reason why teams who need a lot of help at the position and have the extra funds will throw some money at him in the open market. However, it’s hard seeing the Cowboys being one of those teams. They have Diggs and Brown under contract, which makes up two-thirds of their starting group. They’ll likely look to the draft to grab some young new talent, and that could come as early as the 10th overall pick as both Patrick Surtain and Caleb Farley are popular candidates for that draft pick.
The team will also look for some bargain corners like they did last year with Daryl Worley and Maurice Canady. In fact, Canady is still under contract in 2021 due to opting out of last year (2020 exempt/commissioner’s permission list). And if the free agency well dries up, it’s possible the Cowboys might get a good deal on Awuzie like they did with Brown last offseason.
My prediction: Broncos sign Awuzie for three years, $24M ($8M APY): $14M total guaranteed, $9M fully guaranteed at signing.
What do you think the Cowboys should do with Awuzie?
If the cost was an average of $9 million per year, would you bring him back on a three-year deal?
This poll is closed
Yeah, I’d do it
No, I’ll pass
If the cost was an average of $7 million per year, would you bring him back on a three-year deal?
This poll is closed
Yeah, I’d do it
Still a no for me