This offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have ignored the cornerback position. In fact, CB is the only defensive position without a re-signing or outside free-agent addition. Part of this is due to Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Trevon Diggs, Nahshon Wright, and Kelvin Joseph all being on the roster until at least 2023.
There were more pressing needs early in the offseason. But now that the other players have been re-signed, does cornerback become a need? Or are the Cowboys okay walking into the season with the five cornerbacks they already have and ignore the position for another year?
It’s okay if the Cowboys ignore cornerback this offseason
In 2021, the Dallas Cowboys finished as a top-two team in defensive pass DVOA. The last time the defense ranked this high against the pass was in 1996, two years after Dallas hit that mark in 1994 as well.
That means for the first time since the last Super Bowl victory, the Cowboys have a secondary comparable to the 90s. By EPA per play, Dallas finished second as well despite averaging a finish of 23rd in the twenty seasons prior to 2021.
The point is that, for the first time in a while, the Cowboys boasted one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
And this is not only because they forced turnovers. If you exclude any takeaways, Dallas still finished as the fourth-best secondary in the NFL by EPA per play. If you need additional proof that the secondary was solid, turnovers or not, here are some stats that are not influenced by takeaways and where Dallas ranked:
- Opponent completion percentage: third lowest
- Opponent passing success rate (on non-turnover plays): second
- Opponent third-down conversion percentage: second
- Opponent passer rating (somewhat influenced by turnovers): third
The Cowboys' secondary was one of the best in the NFL, and luck wasn't their only strong suit. Thus, it is not a surprise they are ignoring the position this offseason. Because this is the right move given how DT, DE, LB, OG, OT, C, S, and WR are all arguably more pressing needs at the moment.
But a secondary is only as good as its weakest link. It is not difficult for a team to find a mismatch, hyper-target a receiver in a favorable matchup, and pick on the bad cornerback. So, do the Cowboys have that weak link they need to focus on upgrading in the next few months? Let’s go player by player:
Diggs was a first-team All-Pro, a Pro Bowler and the interceptions leader in 2021. Sure he gave up a decent chunk of yards but he also finished with the 13th lowest passer rating allowed last year. Clearly, he is not a weak link. Next.
The Raiders game unfairly affected the public’s perception of Brown. Because of that game he has now been deemed a cornerback that is easily beaten and commits way too many penalties.
But did you know that outside of the Raiders game, Brown only had one penalty all season? Diggs was tied for the lead league in penalties at 11 so if one player is going to be criticized for their penalties, it should not be Brown.
Additionally, Brown finished as a top-thirty cornerback by completion percentage allowed, interceptions, forced incompletions, forced incompletion percentage, and pass breakups. He is not the problem, and he is one of the better second cornerbacks in the NFL. Next.
Jourdan Lewis or Kelvin Joseph
We’re combining these two because all four cornerbacks will not start at the same time, and Lewis and Joseph fall into the third cornerback role.
The one surprising note from this offseason is that Jourdan Lewis managed to stay on the roster despite the $2.3 million in savings Dallas could have accumulated by cutting him. This would have allowed their second-round pick from 2021, Kelvin Joseph, to emerge as a full-time starter.
Lewis also finished as the lowest-graded corner of the three starters by PFF grading, but he still managed to land as a back-end CB2 as the 64th ranked corner. But Lewis is inconsistent, with his four games as a “starter quality” player by the PFF scale and ten games as a “replaceable” player.
Lewis landed in the bottom twenty of the league in receptions allowed, yards after the catch, and targets. But he also fell in the top 32 by average depth of target, forced incompletions, pass breakups, and was 38th by passer rating allowed. He is an inconsistent player but he isn’t a complete liability. It is still surprising the Cowboys didn't choose to move on from his contract.
But the more likely scenario is that Lewis will be splitting time or will even play a backup role to Kelvin Joseph in 2022. Because in the 165 snaps that Joseph played last year, he looked like the player the Cowboys drafted him to be.
On 15 targets, Joseph allowed only seven receptions (46.7% completion percentage allowed), seven yards per reception, no touchdowns, two pass breakups, and a 54.6 passer rating allowed. This is in addition to his eight stops in the run defense, only six less than Diggs, despite playing 913 fewer snaps.
And while it might be unfair, here are the stats that Joseph finished better at during his rookie campaign than during Diggs’ first season in the league, on a per-snap basis: completion percentage allowed, yards allowed, yards per reception, yards after the catch, touchdowns, passer rating allowed, and nearly every run defense statistic.
It is too early to say anything about Joseph’s future with the team. But what we do know is that he impressed in the limited snaps he played last season. Given his age, the Cowboys couldn't find a better cornerback for a cheaper price than Joseph, and the odds are stacked against them they could find someone better in the draft.
So, then lets review Dallas’ cornerback situation:
- An All-Pro player, one of the best cornerbacks in the league last year
- One of the better second cornerbacks in the league who played incredibly well, but is unfairly criticized because of one game
- An inconsistent player who shines at times but he likely will take a backup role because they had a rookie who impressed in his limited action
So, given how they won’t be able to upgrade their cornerbacks at this stage in the offseason unless they burn an early-round pick on a player that might not work out, for a position that is already solid, it is fair to say that Diggs, Brown, Lewis, and Joseph will be the primary CBs in 2022. And Nahshon Wright is still young, maybe he steps up as well.
But even if he doesn’t, the Cowboys’ cornerback group is one of the most well-rounded in the league. It would be a mistake to use any capital on this position. So, focus on other needs in your mock drafts and skip the list of remaining free agent corners. Dallas is set.