Much has been made about Mike McCarthy becoming the new Dallas Cowboys head coach after a decade of Jason Garrett and his associated struggles on the job.
Slipping under the radar, however, was McCarthy’s defensive overhaul. Out went coordinator Rod Marinelli and his sidekick Kris Richard. In came Mike Nolan and, among others, a pair of secondary coaches, Maurice Linguist and former Packers corner Al Harris.
And with them, an important decree.
“They said that everybody has a clean slate,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis told the Cowboys’ official website. “It doesn’t matter how big, tall, how long you’ve been here – it doesn’t matter. If you can play ball, they want to see you in that position to go and compete for that job.”
Entering his age-25 campaign, Lewis is under the microscope as he slides into Byron Jones’ old role as the Cowboys’ CB1. He’s 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. He’s penciled in as a starter opposite Chidobe Awuzie, whom the team is considering for a move to safety.
Dallas bolstered the secondary in recent months, importing CBs Trevon Diggs, Reggie Robinson and Maurice Canady and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the replacement for Jeff Heath (who bolted to the Raiders) and presumed bookend to Xavier Woods.
Diggs is a special talent, but he needs to refine his game at the professional level. Robinson, too. Awuzie is more supporting cast than leading star. Canady is a sub-package-type player who could be relegated to special teams work.
For as log-jammed as the depth chart appears, Lewis stands out amongst the rest. This is the opportunity he’s been waiting for, an opportunity caked in inevitable scrutiny and high-pressure responsibilities.
He knows his new bosses are watching, and he’s rising up to the challenge.
“Just not even thinking about my circumstance, just understanding the type of football player that I’ve always been and understanding that I have the ability to go out there and change games,” Lewis said.
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J-Lew Persuaded to ‘Look Forward’ to 2021 Free Agency
Lewis was dealt a fortuitous hand for 2020, gifted a full-time starting gig. And if he plays his cards right, he’ll likely be dealt a fat contract next offseason.
Bleacher Report lumped the fourth-year Cowboys defender among a list of seven NFL players who “should look forward to free agency in 2021,” their respective stars beginning to illuminate the league landscape.
Via columnist Maurice Moton:
Over the last two terms, Jourdan Lewis has been a solid slot defender for the Dallas Cowboys. The 5’10”, 195-pound cover man can also line up on the perimeter as he did during his rookie campaign, logging 10 pass breakups and an interception.
In 2019, Lewis suited up for 16 contests and played 55 percent of the defensive snaps. Yet he provided impact in multiple ways, registering four sacks, four tackles for loss, six breakups and two interceptions.
This offseason, the Cowboys bolstered the cornerback group, acquiring Daryl Worley, rookie second-rounder Trevon Diggs and fourth-rounder Reggie Robinson II. The front office also re-signed Anthony Brown, who can play in the slot or on the outside.
With so much depth at cornerback, Lewis may find it difficult to reach his full potential in Dallas. As an unrestricted free agent, he could explore his options and compete for a full-time starting spot elsewhere.
Lewis’ versatility could help him land a high-end deal relative to slot cornerbacks, or he may see a significant bump in salary if the team that signs him intends to play him primarily on the perimeter.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL