The Dallas Cowboys have tried all kinds of different things at the cornerback position over the last decade. Back in 2012, they hit it heavy by not only signing free agent Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal (that was a huge deal back then) but then packaging both their first- and second-round picks to trade up to select LSU star cornerback Morris Claiborne. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan.
The team remodeled their group a few years later as they drafted what would eventually be a new starting cornerback group that was selected in a span of three straight drafts. This included Byron Jones (2015), Anthony Brown (2016), Chidobe Awuzie (2017), and Jourdan Lewis (2017). This group turned out to be much better. In fact, the starting group of Jones and Awuzie (on the outside) plus Brown (in the slot) finished as three of the top four tight window corners in the league in 2018. That’s pretty good.
While their contributions were valued during their rookie deals, the front office did not open up their wallets to hang on to the more expensive guys. Jones and Awuzie got paid nicely in free agency as they signed with AFC teams while the team retained both Brown and Lewis for a good price.
The Cowboys hit on Trevon Diggs in the 2020 draft but also missed with picks like Michael Jackson (2019), Reggie Robinson II (2020), Kelvin Joseph (2021), and Nashon Wright (2021). For the last two seasons, they’ve rolled with the team of Diggs/Brown/Lewis which did well in 2021 as the team led the league with 26 total interceptions. But then both Brown and Lewis got hurt last year causing the team to scramble as they found that Joseph, Wright, and an assortment of veteran cornerback signings didn’t pan out. They did find a good player in fifth-round pick DaRon Bland from last year’s draft who finished with a team-high five picks in 2022.
Brown is now a free agent and the 2021 draft class is smelling like a bust, so the team will need to find some answers to round out the cornerback group this offseason. Over the past week, we’ve explored each position group and put together a guide sheet that so far includes...
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at quarterback
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at running back
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do on the offensive line
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at wide receiver
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at tight end
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at defensive end
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at defensive tackle
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at linebacker
Today, we’ll take a closer look at what the Cowboys' front office should do at cornerback.
WHAT WE KNOW
Brown is an unrestricted free agent who is coming off an Achilles injury. He’s a lot more serviceable on the outside than folks give him credit for, which would typically equal a nice paycheck on the open market, but the injury will likely result in a lower-cost shorter-term contract for the veteran corner.
Lewis has another year left on his three-year deal. He’ll count $5.8 million against the cap this season, but the team could save $4.7 million if he’s released with only a $1.1 million dead money hit.
Diggs is entering the final year of his rookie contract, which comes with a nice raise due to his fourth-year performance escalator. His base salary goes from $1.4 million to $4.3 million thanks to earning a spot in the Pro Bowl. He is eligible for a contract extension this year if the Cowboys want to stay ahead of the game rather than wait until he hits free agency next offseason.
The Cowboys found something in DaRon Bland. He got an opportunity last year after Lewis got hurt and now has a firm hold on the slot corner job. He did play some on the outside last year, and while it’s not his strong suit, he can play that spot in a pinch.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
How does this team feel about their 2021 Day 2 selections of Joseph and Wright? Neither has looked good after two years in the league. They have played sparingly but were forced into action last year when Brown went down. Both got their chance last year, first Joseph, then Wright. How long will the team continue to give these guys chances or will finally be time to cut their losses?
What is Brown’s recovery timetable? Will he be ready to go by the start of the new season, and if so, just how effective can he be? And finally, what price will he command in free agency?
WHAT THE COWBOYS SHOULD DO
The team has two-thirds of their starting unit intact with Diggs and Bland. Diggs’ extension is coming soon and Bland is under player control for the next three years. That’s a nice start. They still need some able bodies as we saw them struggle to find that third guy this season. If they feel like Brown would be able to contribute on some level and can get him on a cheap, prove-it deal, bringing him back could give them a savvy veteran in the short term to help bridge the development of a young player.
And speaking of a young player, there are a dozen college corners ranked in the top 100 of this new draft class. The Cowboys might be able to find another quality starter within the first couple of days of the draft.
The team will have a tough decision about what to do with Lewis. While he’s been a viable slot piece and gives them depth, his 2023 cost isn’t worth it. He does not fare well on the outside and is type-cast as a slot corner only. They would be better served to just release him and save the cap space, especially since Bland is holding down the slot corner job now. It’s also worth noting that hybrid safety/corner Israel Mukuamu can also play the slot further limiting Lewis’ overall value to the team.
Another tough decision will be what to do with the 2021 Day 2 boys. While both are super cheap, it’s hard seeing the team continue to save a roster spot for them if they are not showing progress. It’s a close battle, but I have Wright getting one more chance and Joseph getting a pink slip.