The Cowboys knew after his rookie year that they had something special in Trevon Diggs, but they’ve been trying to figure out the other two cornerback spots ever since. DaRon Bland looks to have locked down the slot position, but neither Kelvin Joseph or Nahshon Wright have given the front office any confidence in their abilities going forward.
That’s why cornerback is a top position of need this offseason. While Dallas could throw yet another draft pick at the problem, it might be smarter to look in free agency for a known commodity that wouldn’t break the bank, but still provide reliable production. Here are three names the Cowboys should go after in free agency.
Eagles CB James Bradberry
The Cowboys are undoubtedly very familiar with James Bradberry. After four years of quietly stellar football with the Panthers, he signed a big contract with the Giants, back when Dave Gettleman was handing out money to everyone. His first year in New York was actually a career best at the time, ranking in the top 10 in both passer rating when targeted and coverage snaps per reception.
Bradberry’s 2021 season, though, was abysmal. He was one of the league’s worst corners by nearly every metric, which led to the new regime cutting him outright. That’s when he joined the Eagles on a one-year, prove-it deal and did way more than prove it. Only Sauce Gardner gave up a lower completion rate than Bradberry; similarly, Gardner was also the only cornerback to have a higher amount of coverage snaps per reception, although Bradberry did post the lowest passer rating when targeted.
The Cowboys know this well, too. In their first matchup with the Eagles, they went after Bradberry relentlessly. But of the 10 passes thrown at Bradberry in that game, only three were completed; coincidentally, that’s how many pass breakups Bradberry recorded in that game. The second time around, the Cowboys targeted Bradberry just four times, completing one pass.
Bradberry has been a great cornerback the vast majority of his career, with one statistical outlier of bad football. It’s unlikely he’ll be as dominant as he was in 2022, but Bradberry still has plenty of good football in him. The only question is how much money Bradberry will try to command after his career year. If Bradberry is more focused on the right fit than simply trying to get the most money possible, Dallas would make a lot of sense for him.
Raiders CB Rock Ya-Sin
First of all, what a name. Rock Ya-Sin was a standout FCS player at Presbyterian College before transferring to Temple his final year of eligibility. There, he turned enough heads to be drafted 34th overall by the Colts. Ya-Sin put together three very solid years in Indianapolis, but was part of a trade that netted the Colts star edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue last offseason.
This past year with the Raiders, he allowed completions on 58.5% of his targets and yielded a passer rating when targeted of 82.5, both of which were inside the top 25 of all corners this year. Statistically speaking, those numbers are similar to Anthony Brown, though slightly better. Ya-Sin’s 12.2 coverage snaps per reception were also significantly better than Brown’s 9.3 figure.
Ya-Sin isn’t likely to be an expensive free agent signing, but he still offers well-above-average cornerback play. For the Cowboys, he would (at the very least) be a replacement for Brown, though likely represent an upgrade overall.
Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
The Cowboys haven’t faced any non-divisional team more in the last two years than the Buccaneers, having started the regular season against Tampa Bay each year and then beating them in the playoffs this year. That’s given them a good, long look at Jamel Dean, whose rookie contract is set to expire this offseason.
Dean hasn’t been the biggest name out there, but he’s been quietly good. Just this year, he allowed the third lowest completion rate and had the sixth most coverage snaps per reception, both high marks for him. A year ago, Dean was in the top 15 of all corners in both categories as well, highlighting the incremental rise he’s enjoyed throughout his brief career.
Just look at Dean in his time facing the Cowboys. In last year’s season opener, he allowed five catches on nine targets, giving up a touchdown and being penalized three times. It was, statistically speaking, his worst game of the year. In Week 1 of 2022, Dean fared much better: three catches on seven targets, with zero touchdowns and no penalties. In the playoffs, Dean only played on special teams after being sick earlier in the week. As a result, Dak Prescott had arguably the best game of his career, and the Cowboys notched their first win over the Buccaneers in these three tries.
Dean has been on a steady rise as a cornerback every year since coming into the league, and he’s quietly grown into one of the best at his position the last two years specifically. If the Buccaneers don’t extend him before hitting the open market, the Cowboys should be able to land Dean for a reasonable price, while seriously upgrading their defense overall.
BONUS: Rams CB Jalen Ramsey
Okay, so Jalen Ramsey isn’t a free agent, but he seems to be available. Friday brought the news that the Rams, who are currently over the salary cap by nearly $16 million, have had trade talks regarding their shutdown cornerback. Ramsey, who has three years left on his current contract, is set to carry a 2023 cap hit of just over $25 million.
The question here is what Ramsey will cost. The Rams themselves had to give up two first-round picks to get him four seasons ago. With Ramsey coming off a disappointing season - more indicative of the Rams as a whole than Ramsey individually - the price tag shouldn’t be that high, but it’ll likely still be significant. The Cowboys would likely have to take on a big portion of his contract, since Los Angeles would be moving him to clear up cap space.
That makes it unlikely the Cowboys, themselves over the cap at the moment, pull this off. Still, Ramsey has been one of the best corners in the league for his entire career. Landing him would immediately upgrade the defense and vault the Cowboys into legitimate contender status, while having the added bonus of quieting the critics who say Jerry and Stephen Jones aren’t willing to make splashy moves.