Last week, the Dallas Cowboys were hard at work at the NFL scouting combine. Jerry Jones and company were in Indianapolis and got a closer look at the incoming class of prospects, ahead of this year’s NFL draft. The team met with many draft hopefuls at several different positions. However, when you look at who they have met with at the combine, there’s one interesting bit of information.
Out of their confirmed forty meetings at the combine, the team met with very few linebackers. For a team that’s been known to invest so heavily in linebackers, that should grab your attention. It should also serve as an indicator that the club will likely look for help in that area in free agency more so than through the NFL draft.
As it stands, Leighton Vander Esch is set to enter free agency and isn’t a lock to return. It’s been reported that Vander Esch and the Cowboys aren’t close to coming to an agreement for a new deal. If Vander Esch isn’t retained and the Cowboys seek outside sources, look for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to call an old friend for help.
NFL Exp: 8 yrs.
Deion Jones has been on the radar of many Cowboys fans for some time. After running a sub 4.4 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day in 2016, fans salivated over the prospects of adding Jones to the Dallas defense. They ultimately opted to take Jaylon Smith that year with the 34th pick while Jones fell 18 spots later to Atlanta.
Almost immediately Jones became a premier player in Quinn’s defense. He totaled 246 tackles, six interceptions, and one trip to the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons. By that time, Jones earned a reputation as a speedy, playmaking coverage linebacker.
In a surprising move, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns last season in the final year of his contract along with a seventh-round pick. The trade turned a few heads because Jones was still a productive player at the time of the trade. Though Jones has struggled sporadically with injuries, including last season, he’s been mostly healthy throughout his NFL career.
However, last season was easily the worst of Jones’ career. He joined a Browns team that had one of the league’s worst run defenses and was a part-time contributor in 2022. Jones’ market will likely not be lively as it would have been had he come off a healthy and productive season. For that reason, it’s reasonable to believe Jones won’t seriously be linked to signing with a new team until the second or third wave of free agency, if not later. It could be a scenario very similar to Anthony Barr, where Jones sits on the free-agent shelf for a while before the Cowboys come calling.
If Jones were to sign in Dallas, he could serve a role as a part-time player in Dallas as he did in Cleveland. At best, Jones might return to the form from earlier in his career and at worst, be a mentor to the two former LSU Tigers linebackers currently on the team, Damone Clark and Jabril Cox. As for overall cost, the longer Jones sits available in free agency, the more affordable he’ll become for the Cowboys.