By their own admission, Byron Jones isn’t the Dallas Cowboys‘ top in-house priority; that would be quarterback Dak Prescott. He’s not even the second priority among the team’s many free agents; that would be wide receiver Amari Cooper.
There’s only so much pie to go around, to borrow Jerry Jones’ metaphor, and if Dallas eschews the star cornerback, he may see them twice next season — as the enemy.
Reporting from the Senior Bowl, plugged-in NFL analyst Tony Pauline passed along a rumor that Jones could land with the Philadelphia Eagles, who are expected to aggressively pursue a corner this offseason. Pauline also mentions Denver’s Chris Harris Jr. as an option for the reigning NFC East champions.
“Word here in Mobile is that the Philadelphia Eagles will go hard after a cornerback in free agency. Chris Harris and Byron Jones are two of the names being thrown around, but I expect the Eagles to turn over every rock in free agency in an attempt to fill the position,” Pauline wrote.
The Cowboys’ first-round draft pick in 2015 (No. 27 overall), Jones wrapped up his rookie contract, earning $6.266 million from his fifth-year option. A Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in 2018, he took a step back this season, totaling 46 tackles, six pass deflections, and one forced fumble. He failed to record an interception for the second year in a row.
OverTheCap.com estimated Jones’ 2019 market value at $10.909 million, which would place him just beneath Pittsburgh’s Joe Haden ($11 million) as the NFL’s 17th-highest-paid CB in terms of annual salary. That likely represents the jumping-off point in impending negotiations.
The Cowboys are projected to wield over $81 million in available salary-cap space, more than enough to lock down Jones if they so choose. The Eagles will have roughly $43.5 million in cap room, per OTC.
Addressing the media from Mobile, Dallas vice president of player personnel Will McClay cryptically discussed Jones’ standing with the organization, essentially confirming his place on the proverbial totem pole.
“He’s a starting-caliber NFL corner. A really good player. We have to figure out his financial value and if it fits for us,” McClay said Wednesday, via the Dallas Morning News.
McClay, too, admitted that it’ll be difficult inking all three of Prescott, Cooper, and Jones — unrestricted free agents — to long-term, lucrative contracts.
“I think it’s going to be a tough deal,” he said. “It’s the NFL. …When you have good players, you have to figure out how to pay them or how to survive. So, that’s what we do in the front office is to try to figure how to work those contracts and get the best possible team with those guys. We’ve got to go through that whole process.”
McClay and Co. will have a little under two months to retain the troika, as NFL free agency officially kicks off on March 18.
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Cowboys Pushing to Re-Sign Quinn
Buried in Pauline’s aforementioned report was a telling nugget regarding pass-rusher Robert Quinn, who was a revelation in his first season with the Cowboys, delivering a team-high 11.5 sacks across 14 appearances.
Quinn, though, is yet another free agent set to shop his wares around the league. Unless he doesn’t. And if Jerry Jones has his druthers, he won’t. Apparently, the sides reached a mutual understanding, leading Pauline to believe the 29-year-old defensive end will again don the star in 2020.
“Robert Quinn is a free agent come March, but if the Dallas Cowboys have their way, he may not hit the market,” he wrote. “I’m told Jerry Jones has been aggressive in letting Quinn know that he wants the pass rusher to be playing in a Cowboys uniform next year. I’m also told Quinn’s preference is to remain in Dallas. If Dallas makes Quinn a competitive offer, don’t expect him to leave town next season.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL