Claiborne decision shouldn't be tough

IRVING, Texas – The best players play. It seems a fairly obvious statement, but it is not always true in professional sports.

Sometimes money, personalities and front-office desires can overtake that simple mantra.

If Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett wants to maintain credibility not only outside the locker room but also inside, then Morris Claiborne cannot play starter’s snaps.

“It really doesn’t matter where guys come from,” Garrett said. “We’ll evaluate them and see who can play best. We’ll do that again this week and determine how we play guys all throughout our roster.”

The Cowboys gave up their second-round draft pick in 2012 to move up to No. 6 in the first round to take Claiborne. But he’s yet to live up to those expectations or come close to the player the Cowboys said had their highest defensive back grade since Deion Sanders.

Whatever the reason, it just hasn’t happened. And it doesn’t look like it will ever happen.

Even owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said Claiborne is not the guy they thought he would be, but he also said he can be a good player. The Cowboys talk about Claiborne’s ability to play the ball but they always have to reference his time at LSU, not the first 28 games of his career.

In training camp, Garrett frequently mentioned Claiborne’s increased competitiveness in practices. It was good to see, but he was still beaten way too frequently as well. And then Claiborne hurt his shoulder and did not play in a preseason game.

The Cowboys shouldn’t question whether Claiborne should start over Orlando Scandrick. That’s a question even the unwashed masses in the media can figure out. Scandrick is a better player. The Cowboys have to determine whether Claiborne should play over Sterling Moore in the sub packages.

Moore played well in the slot in Scandrick’s absence to start the season because of a suspension. Garrett said Moore could play outside if needed as well. Claiborne played 53 snaps against the St. Louis Rams last week. Moore played two.

Garrett has made this type of decision before. He benched Bruce Carter more than once last year when the linebacker was struggling badly in favor of Ernie Sims. They benched Will Allen last year for J.J. Wilcox at safety, eventually cutting the veteran in a move that might have been too hasty in retrospect. Garrett put right tackle Doug Free on notice in the past, rotating plays with Jermey Parnell, and saw Free respond with better play.

Claiborne’s struggles are not for a lack of work. He put in the time in the offseason to get stronger and more fit. He put in time with the coaches. But something is missing. He talks confidently but he does not play confidently.

Maybe the end-of-game interception against the Rams turns a light on for Claiborne and he figures it out.

The New Orleans Saints come to AT&T Stadium on Sunday with an offense that can spread defenses out like no other. If the Cowboys continue to roll with Claiborne, even as their third cornerback, and he continues to get beat, then they must do something.

In a way Garrett’s job could depend on it.