The tea leaves have suggested what’s now (semi) official: The Dallas Cowboys are waving bye-bye to Byron Jones.
Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys’ brass met with Jones’ player reps at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and the parties mutually agreed to let the star cornerback test free agency, where he’s expected to land a record-setting deal.
“This is really not a surprise,” Rapoport said Friday, via NFL.com. “The Cowboys like to keep all of their players. They just have a lot of other financial responsibilities here. Dak is one. Amari Cooper is another. Byron Jones is expected to be a highly paid corner and could end up as the highest-paid corner in the NFL when it’s all said and done.”
Not a surprise in the least, after Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones echoed team vice president Stephen Jones’ skepticism over retaining Jones, pointing to where the club’s priorities lie: Prescott and Cooper, then everybody else — 23 other free agents.
“It certainly is pretty plain to see that, when you have the players we have right now under contract, plus we have arguably three of the top free agents there are out there, and we have the prospects of this Collective Bargaining Agreement, that we’ve got some work to do,” Jerry Jones said Thursday, per Pro Football Talk. “That’s a real challenge.”
The league’s legal tampering window — the de facto start to free agency — opens on March 16, and Jones is primed to become the richest CB ever at an estimated $15-16 million per year.
Alleged front-runners for his services include the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, and Las Vegas Raiders, who reportedly have “legit” interest in inking the former first-round pick.
Chosen No. 27 overall in 2015, Jones wrapped up his rookie contract this past season, earning $6.266 million from his fifth-year option. A Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in 2018, he took a step back in 2019, totaling 46 tackles, six pass deflections, and one forced fumble. He failed to record an interception for the second straight year but earned positive coverage marks from Pro Football Focus.
Plain-to-see talent aside, Cowboys executives have expressed continual apprehension over retaining Jones on a long-term pact, owed to his massive price tag and the team’s decision to re-sign and/or franchise-tag Prescott and Cooper.
“Byron’s a guy we think a lot of. He’s had a great run at corner, he’s played really well, played at a high level,” Stephen Jones said Monday at the Combine, per in-house reporter David Helman. “That’s the hard thing when you have quite a few good players on your football team, is you get challenges. I know Byron understands that, but at the same time he’s worried about Byron and he should be. Certainly, we’ll continue, we’ll visit with his guys while we’re here, kind of see their direction and what they’re thinking and we’ll have to keep moving.”
“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,” vice president of player personnel Will McClay said last month.
Jones is among several Dallas defensive backs slated to hit the unrestricted market, joining safeties Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier and Darian Thompson, and corners Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin.
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Cooper to Land Long-Term Cowboys Contract ‘Very Soon’?
ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported Saturday that negotiations “are set to intensify very soon” between Dallas and the Pro Bowl pass-catcher, who’s been projected to land as much as $20 million annually on his next deal.
The Cowboys are working against the clock and the soon-to-be ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is expected to eliminate use of both the franchise and transition tags. They would have the franchise tag at their disposal, though that’s likely to be applied to Prescott, barring a long-term agreement by March 12, the tag deadline.
“It’s what it is. We’ll just have to figure out a way to (get it done). … There’s no question it’s going to put on a bigger angst,” owner Jerry Jones said at the Combine on Thursday, per the Dallas Morning News.
Cooper, 25, could meet or surpass the $96.25 million contract inked by New Orleans’ Michael Thomas last summer. It’s possible he also eclipses, in terms of annual salary, the three-year, $66 million deal that Atlanta’s Julio Jones received in September.
New Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy recently unveiled the team’s “goal” of re-signing Cooper and fellow unrestricted free agent WR Randall Cobb.
“Having a chance to get through all the tape, [Cooper] did a lot of great things and it really looks like he’s in sync with Dak,” McCarthy noted.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL