Out goes one former All-Pro, in comes another?
As the clock ticks closer to NFL free agency, the Dallas Cowboys are increasingly resigned to the prospect of losing cornerback Byron Jones — so resigned that they’re apparently eyeing his similarly-costly replacement.
According to Troy Renck of Denver 7 ABC, the Cowboys have expressed interest in unrestricted free agent Chris Harris Jr., arguably the second-best CB, behind Jones, in this year’s class.
Harris, however, has a booming market forming. Renck added the Houston Texans, Las Vegas Raiders, Detroit Lions, and New York Jets as potential suitors, while the Dallas Morning News’ Calvin Watkins reports Harris’ reps met with “at least” 24 teams at last week’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“Dallas has expressed interest,” Watkins confirms.
A four-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro selection, Harris is perenially hailed among the league’s best corners, particularly in the slot, where he’s honed a shutdown reputation. He was a Pro Football Focus darling from 2015-18, regularly earning elite coverage grades.
Harris took a step back in 2019 when Denver asked him to play along the boundary in addition to inside duties. Though, despite surrendering four touchdowns and a 67.1-percent completion rate to opposing quarterbacks, he finished as PFF’s No. 35 CB out of 133 qualifiers.
A 2011 undrafted free agent, he’s totaled 518 combined tackles, 89 pass breakups, 20 interceptions, 4.5 sacks, and four defensive touchdowns across nine professional seasons.
Entering his age-30 campaign, Harris is primed to dwarf the $9.8 million base salary he collected last season. Spotrac.com projects $11.125 million annually on the open market, but he may easily flirt with $13-14 million per year from a needy and cap-flush team like the Cowboys ($77 million) or Raiders ($50.3 million).
In Dallas, Harris would step right into the starting lineup opposite Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, assuming the team doesn’t further fortify the position via April’s draft, where they hold the No. 17 overall pick.
And there’s a distinct possibility the Cowboys and Broncos swap secondary defenders when the signing period informally begins March 16. The latter is expected to pursue Jones and there are indications Denver could make him the highest-paid CB in history — perhaps at more than $16 million per year.
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Jones, Cowboys Agree to Mutual Resolution: Report
Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys brass met with Jones’ agent at the Combine and the parties mutually agreed to let the star cornerback test free agency, where he’s expected to land a market-resetting 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: quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper, then everybody else — 23 other unsigned players.
“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.”
Jones is among several Dallas defensive backs scheduled to test the proverbial unrestricted waters, joining safeties Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier and Darian Thompson, and corners Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL