Choosing his words carefully, Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones indicated the team is prepared to move on from star cornerback Byron Jones, an impending unrestricted free agent.
Jones spoke in the past tense as he discussed Jones’ future with the franchise — or lack thereof.
“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,” he said Monday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, per David Helman of the Cowboys’ official website. “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.”
Jones would appear to be in lockstep with Dallas vice president of player personnel Will McClay, who previously cautioned “it’s going to be a tough deal” re-signing the former first-round pick with quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper also needing new contracts.
“It’s the NFL. …When you have good players, you have to figure out how to pay them or how to survive,” McClay said last month, per the Dallas Morning News. “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.”
The No. 27 overall selection of the 2015 draft, 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 past 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 earned positive coverage marks from Pro Football Focus.
By their own admission, the Cowboys declared Prescott the “urgent” contractual priority and his primary weapon, Cooper, a close No. 2. While the team can conceivably retain the troika, thanks to an estimated $77 million in salary-cap space, they’ve also made it abundantly clear Jones may be left wanting.
“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 added.
Jones, projected to reset the corner market, has been connected to a handful of suitors already this offseason, including the Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos — all of whom are expected to aggressively pursue the 27-year-old when the league’s legal tampering window opens on March 16.
Jones is among several Cowboys defensive backs slated to test free agency, joining Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson, Kavon Frazier, C.J. Goodwin, Anthony Brown.
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Cowboys ‘Ideal’ Landing Spot for Former First-Round CB
In less than a month, the Cowboys‘ back end will undergo wholesale changes, beginning with the probable defections of Jones and Heath, among others.
To offset their potential losses, the club should add an influx of fresh blood, be it on the open market or through the draft — or both. And Bleacher Report picked an “ideal” candidate to kick off the transfusion: Vikings CB Trae Waynes.
Drafted 11th overall in 2015, Waynes completed his rookie pact in 2019, posting 58 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception across 14 starts. He was inactive for Minnesota’s Week 10 win over Dallas.
Inconsistent in coverage despite a solid 6-foot build and blazing 4.31 speed, he has totaled 247 career tackles, 42 pass deflections and seven picks over five professional seasons.
If signed, Waynes would slide in as a starter opposite Chidobe Awuzie, with Jourdan Lewis manning the slot. But Dallas likely will invest draft capital into restocking the cupboard, potentially using their first-round pick (No. 17 overall) on a cornerback or safety.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL