FRISCO, Texas -- On Monday, ESPN Insider Bill Barnwell began a series with five moves each team in the NFC East should make this offseason.
For the Dallas Cowboys, the list touched on a lot of the things that already have been written about: 1. Extend Zack Martin, 2. Restructure Travis Frederick’s contract, 3. Ask Dez Bryant to either take a pay cut or be cut, and 4. Place the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence.
The fifth move was to pick up Byron Jones’ first-year option and pick a place for him to play.
The Cowboys want to talk to Martin’s agents soon, likely at the NFL scouting combine, to work on a deal that will make him the highest paid guard in NFL history. The Cowboys have no problem with that. The issue will be the structure of the contract. Martin doesn’t want to leave. The Cowboys want him to stay. It could happen rather quickly, but likely will take time because of issues other than total dollars and total guarantee.
Restructuring Frederick’s contract would open up about $7 million in cap space. Add that to a Martin extension that would lower his current cap figure of $9.3 million and the Cowboys could be in business. Barnwell also correctly says the Cowboys should stay away from reworking Tyron Smith’s contract. His injuries the past two years should give them pause before further ballooning the cap figures in the future. The Cowboys should look at reworking Smith’s deal only as a matter of last resort.
I made the bold prediction that Bryant would not be with the Cowboys in 2018 last week. To some, it might not be that bold. To others, it might sound crazy. Predictions often are wrong, but the Cowboys (i.e. Stephen Jones) sound ready to move on from Bryant, which would open up at least $8.5 million more in cap room.
If the Cowboys place the franchise tag on Lawrence, that would eat up a good portion of their cap room with an estimated $17 million price tag. That should put more of an impetus on a deal for Martin, restructuring Frederick and asking Bryant to take a pay cut. They will need cap space to improve the team even if they won’t break the bank in free agency.
Which brings us to Jones, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2015.
As a rookie, Jones mostly played cornerback, outside and in the slot. He did a solid job on tight ends as well. When the Cowboys took him, they mentioned the possibility of moving him to safety in the future, like what the New England Patriots did with Devin McCourty. By the end of his rookie season, Jones was starting at safety and has spent the past two seasons playing that position.
There have been good moments and bad moments for Jones since. Last training camp he looked like he was ready to have a breakout season with his work in practice. He showed the range and athleticism necessary to play a center-field type role, but when Chidobe Awuzie suffered a hamstring strain, Jones’ role was altered.
He did not play the center-field role. Oftentimes he was down inside the box and used to defend tight ends. He had one interception, six pass breakups and was credited by coaches with 74 tackles. By the end of the season, he was splitting time with Kavon Frazier with Jeff Heath remaining on the field full time.
According to multiple sources, the Cowboys are considering using Jones at cornerback again. New secondary coach Kris Richard likes bigger corners. He had Richard Sherman with the Seattle Seahawks. At 6-0, 205 pounds, Jones would qualify as a big corner. He has the necessary athleticism.
The Cowboys liked the way rookies Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods ended the season as their top three corners, but teams never have enough corners. Veteran Orlando Scandrick could be on his way out, although his $3 million salary could make him a potential trade target. Jones would bring some scheme flexibility with his move back to corner.
Sometimes versatility hurts a player. It has hurt Tyrone Crawford. Because he can play multiple spots on the defensive line, he has not been able to play the position the Cowboys intended him to play (the under tackle) when they signed him to a $45 million extension in 2014. Crawford seemed to find a home last year at right defensive end and had a better season than his four sacks would indicate.
Since the moment he was drafted, the Cowboys lauded Jones’ versatility. Having position flexibility is a bonus, but it also can prevent a player from reaching his full potential at one spot.
After three seasons, the Cowboys still don’t know what Jones is.
If they move him to corner full time in 2018, they need to keep him there full time so he can show what he is -- or isn’t.