The Dallas Cowboys can not afford to re-sign corner Byron Jones. The salary cap forces hard roster decisions. Have the Cowboys made the right one?
Logic suggests that the Dallas Cowboys should prioritize corner Byron Jones higher than wide receiver Amari Cooper. The NFL draft is loaded with wide receivers and the corner free agent market looks thin with only two corners in NFL.com’s top 101 free agent list making the top 35.
Jones is using the same logic to hit the free agent market seeking the richest corner contract. Quarterback Dak Prescott and Cooper hitting the free agent market at the same time is a windfall for Jones.
On Saturday, the players vote on the new collective bargaining agreement will decide if one or two franchise/transition tags are available to teams this offseason. Whether it is one or two tags is not likely to impact the decision to keep Jones.
DallasCowboys.com writer Mickey Spagnola wrote a column last week imploring the Cowboys to not write off Jones too quick. He encouraged Dallas to think of the options to replace Jones citing the fool’s gold mentality of seeking quick wins in free agency:
"“Keep hearing they will draft a guy early to replace Jones. That’s pretty cavalier … Or hearing they can just sign a ready-made replacement in free agency for less money but as much talent. Guarantee you that ain’t right. Probably be far-less less talent, since some other team didn’t think enough of the guy to keep him.”"
What Spagnola seems to forget is that the Cowboys have already determined that they don’t think enough of Jones to keep him. Dallas met with Jones’ representatives in late February and learned what it would cost to keep Jones from hitting the free agent market.
Obviously, the number the Cowboys had in mind was lower than the number Jones and his representatives had in mind. The gap likely too large to think negotiation could find common ground.
The salary cap forces teams to make hard decisions. Jones has been a good corner for the Cowboys. While fans have bemoaned his lack of turnovers, the paid observers at Pro Football Focus think he is a top twenty corner in the league.
Dallas is rightly deciding to move on from Jones given that Jones wants to be paid at the top end of the corner market. The team signing Jones, the Giants are rumored, will soon learn that they have acquired a good corner who they have paid as a great corner. As economist Richard Thaler commented when discussing the Khalil Mack trade, the secret to success in the salary cap NFL is to have players performance exceed the value of their contract.
"“I believe the only way to win in football is to have players who play better than their salaries.”"
Dallas, assuming they don’t sign a replacement free agent in the complicated NFL compensatory draft process, will recover a third round pick in the 2021 NFL draft plus have the cap space to allocate to other players. The Cowboys will also not have to worry that they signed a player whose performance will not exceed the allocated salary cap space.
The writing has been on the wall for a while (see my April 2019 post). It was always going to be a challenge for the Cowboys to sign Jones after signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, running back Ezekiel Elliott and leaving cap space for Prescott and Cooper.
Losing Byron Jones will leave a glaring hole in the Dallas Cowboys secondary. The team’s success for the 2020 season will require the highly paid Cowboys players to shoulder the load. Let’s hope Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Elliott are the right men for the job.