Make that two AFC West clubs likely to be hot on Byron Jones’ trail.
After a rumor connected the Dallas Cowboys‘ star free-agent cornerback to the cap-flush Denver Broncos, Pro Football Focus instead envisions Jones joining the Oakland Raiders by way of record-setting five-year contract, worth $16 million annually, including a whopping $50.5 million guaranteed.
In 2018, the Raiders ranked dead last in EPA per pass allowed. In 2019, the Raiders ranked dead last in EPA per pass allowed. If I had to guess what Jon Gruden says to that, it’s “something’s gotta give, man.” The good news is, they have money in the bank to pay for one of the top defensive backs hitting the open market — and there isn’t a cornerback better in this free agency pool than Byron Jones. After bouncing around at various alignments in the secondary for three years, Jones found his home at outside corner in 2018 and has since been one of the five best in the NFL. In that role, he’s been a shutdown corner in press-man coverage — he allowed just 0.39 yards per coverage snap on those reps in 2019, the second-lowest figure at the position and over eight-tenths of a yard lower than the average. Daryl Worley was dead last in that stat, in case you were wondering.
The per-year value would surpass Miami’s Xavien Howard ($15.05 million) and the guarantee would blow past the Jets’ highwater mark-holder, Trumaine Johnson ($34 million at signing), making Jones the richest CB in NFL history.
Oakland wields less salary-cap space ($50.27 million) than Denver ($62.15 million) but arguably has a bigger need at the position, for the reasons illustrated above. They’re also classically aggressive in acquiring talent, regardless of financial ramifications, evidenced by last year’s failed Antonio Brown experiment.
For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report previously predicted Jones inking a five-year megadeal with the Broncos when the league’s legal tampering window opens on March 16.
Dallas’ 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 but did earn positive coverage marks from PFF.
While the Cowboys will bolster their defense under new head coach Mike McCarthy and coordinator Mike Nolan, it doesn’t appear as if Jones is in their future plans with quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper also needing to be paid, and prioritized.
“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,” team vice president of player personnel Will McClay said at last month’s Senior Bowl, via the Dallas Morning News.
Aside from the Broncos and perhaps the Raiders, the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly will “aggressively” pursue Jones, who’ll enjoy a long list of suitors this offseason — a list that might not, and probably won’t, include the Cowboys.
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Jourdan Lewis Announces Change with Cowboys [LOOK]
Before Dallas’ secondary undergoes a massive transformation, beginning with the projected departures of Jones and free-agent starting safety Jeff Heath, cornerback Jourdan Lewis announced his new (old) digits.
Reported earlier this offseason, Lewis took to Twiter on Friday to confirm his jersey number change from No. 27 to No. 26 for the 2020 season.
Lewis wore No. 26 during his collegiate career at Michigan, where he was a two-time first-team All-American and two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection. He assumed No. 27 when he arrived in Dallas in 2017 as a third-round draft pick.
Lewis becomes the 20th player in franchise history to don No. 26. Two different players — defensive backs Josh Jones and Donovan Olumba — wore it last season, and running back Darius Jackson before that, in 2018.
Entering his age-25 campaign, his fourth as a pro, Lewis is due for a significant uptick in activity after playing just 589 defensive snaps (55 percent) across 16 appearances in 2019, when he notched two interceptions and 51 combined tackles. The Cowboys are bracing to lose Jones on the open market, and CBs Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin are currently unsigned, as well.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL