It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys need secondary help. The media has offered a multitude of solutions to this problem. Byron Jones is an unrestricted free agent who’s rumored to be looking for around 12-15 million dollars after 2 stellar seasons (according to this piece from CBS Sports insider Patrik Walker), and there’s no doubt that the Cowboys’ front office was sick of watching their secondary miss tackle after tackle, or even worse, blow coverage after coverage in 2019.
Without further ado, here are 5 options the Cowboys could use when approaching this enigma. This offseason will turn into a perfect case study as to how NFL teams approach different positions when it comes to money. The options below are not ranked in any order; rather, they are a list of possibilities for the Cowboys that could potentially turn into long-term solutions.
Option #1: Trade for Jets All-Pro S Jamal Adams
This has been the most openly-discussed option for the Cowboys ever since the trade deadline, where the Jets asked for multiple high-value assets in exchange for Adams (according to this piece from CBS Sports insider Patrik Walker). Even after that, however, Dallas said they might re-open offseason trade talks because the interest still remains between both parties(according to this piece from CBS Sports insider Patrik Walker).
First of all, Adams’ representatives and the Jets’ front office are discussing an extension, and rightfully so (according to Al Iannazzone at newsday.com). He’s the team’s only half-decent player outside of Quinnen Williams, Sam Darnold, and Le’Veon Bell (who probably won’t be on the team for long). This likely means Dallas will have to trade multiple high-value assets for him and then pay Adams top-tier money.
The Cowboys already need to sign Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper to long-term deals, and Adams would cost nearly 20 million in cap space. Assuming Prescott accepts the projected 33M deal with more guaranteed money and Dallas pays Cooper around 20M, then a 20M dollar deal for Adams is just asking for cap casualty for the next few years.
Finally, Adams’ skillset doesn’t necessarily fit what Dallas needs. The Cowboys need secondary help, and not playing Adams as a box defender is constricting his skillset, and thus his potential.
However, the All-Pro is not a great coverage safety, and that’s what Dallas needs more than anything. In Mike Nolan’s new scheme, Adams would have another Swiss Army Knife/dime linebacker role, and that doesn’t fit Dallas in terms of cap space or team need.
Option #2: Pursue Broncos All-Pro S Justin Simmons
If there was one option that would best solve this problem, this would be it. While yes, Justin Simmons also needs a long-term contract, he would be slightly cheaper than Adams. Coming off an All-Pro season under defensive mastermind Vic Fangio, it is very unlikely that Simmons leaves Denver, as he was an irreplaceable presence in their defense last season. However, should contract talks go awry, the Cowboys should at least do their due diligence with the All-Pro safety.
Simmons is a more preferable option for the Cowboys than Adams because he is an infinitely better coverage safety. Dallas can’t afford to get burned because of poor safety play, so Simmons would be a fantastic chess piece for Nolan’s secondary. Finally, it wouldn’t take that many high-value assets to trade for Simmons as it would Adams because their respective levels of talent are different.
Simmons is a better coverage safety, but Adams is a better football player. However, the Broncos’ safety makes more sense because of the former. Dallas needs coverage more than anything, and a deep safety who can hold things down in the back end while DeMarcus Lawrence is rushing the passer would be an offer the Cowboys cannot pass up on.
This just makes too much sense, and Simmons is just entering his prime. If Dallas is ever in this position, they shouldn’t hesitate to make an offer. At worst, they can negotiate prices/or assets. A deep safety who can hold his own in coverage is an invaluable piece in any elite defense, and the tables are finally turning towards the Cowboys building one. This is the move, Jerry; don’t think about it, just make an offer.
Option #3: Extend All-Pro CB Byron Jones
This option is by far the most intriguing of the bunch. The preface of this segment begins with a fact: Byron Jones is one of the best cornerbacks in football, period. After Dallas tried playing him at safety for the first 3 years of his career, he didn’t look that great at all. However, former defensive backs coach and playcaller Kris Richard developed him into an All-Pro corner in Year 4.
The issue is, what does the new regime see in Jones? Nolan and McCarthy have emphasized that Dallas needed more takeaways, and that’s entirely true. Jones’ playstyle, however, doesn’t revolve around takeaways, because most of the time, teams avoid him entirely. For example, Michael Thomas was the best wide receiver in the league during the 2019 season, with a record-setting 149 receptions to go along with 1725 yards, per Pro Football Reference.
In their Week 4 matchup, Thomas caught 2 passes for 21 yards (charted through watching the game film) when he was matched up against Jones. One of those routes was a pick play, where Sean Payton schemed a way to cut off Jones’ path and get Thomas open. The other reception was Mike winning at the line on his unstoppable slant route.
So, Jones can definitely compete with the best of the best, and his ability to lock down an entire side of the field drives opposing offenses nuts because they have to match up their best receivers elsewhere, into the teeth of the Cowboys defense. If Jones can lock down an opposing team’s best player, cut off an entire side of the field, and play with one of the freakiest athletic profiles in all of football, the question then becomes: What’s the catch?
The answer to that is cap space and playstyle. Dallas is most definitely going to commit 53-55 million dollars to Prescott and Cooper, and it’s no secret that the Cowboys would choose to sign pass rusher Robert Quinn over Jones, because he contributes to turnovers much more than Jones does. There just isn’t enough cap space to satisfy everyone, and even if Dallas restructured deals to make it happen, they’d be swamped for the near future.
Take a guess at how many takeaways Jones has accumulated in the 2 seasons he’s played corner; the number is 0, by the way (per Pro Football Reference). The former UConn product might be a stud, but takeaways with him are as likely as a blue moon, and it’s unclear how enticed the Cowboys’ front office is as a result of that.
Because of the early indications given by Nolan, the possibility of extending Byron Jones seems more and more unlikely. Will Dallas extend Jones or let him go to the open market? At this point, who on Earth even knows.
Option #4: Draft Florida CB C.J. Henderson in Round 1
If the Cowboys want to bring in a fresh wave of cornerback talent, this is the way to go. Outside of Jourdan Lewis, there really isn’t a cornerback on the Cowboys’ current roster who most would consider competent (Byron Jones is a free agent). Henderson, however, is the perfect corner prospect for this team, because he fits exactly what Dallas wants in a prototypical corner: physical, long arms, and playmaking on the ball.
This team isn’t desperate enough to give up assets for Jeff Okudah, and with the Lions looking at trade possibilities for All-Pro corner Darius “Big Play” Slay, it’s likely that they will be replacing Slay by selecting Okudah 3rd overall, even if the pick is a huge reach (overrated player and position, already have a starting corner on the team). So, Henderson is the 2nd best corner in this class, and probably the best player available if Dallas wants to prioritize the position.
He can play on islands against opposing teams’ best receivers, he can match up with anyone regardless of size and strength, and he can tackle very well for a corner. That last part is arguably the best reason to draft a player like Henderson in Round 1. The Cowboys’ secondary could not make tackles to save their lives in 2019, against both the run and the pass. Tackling in defensive backs is just as important as catching in wide receivers; not being able to do so will not be tolerated in either case.
Drafting Henderson would signal a new era for Dallas defensive backs, where tackling is important and the team does whatever it takes to get its 11 best tacklers on the field at all times. This option would be one of the most preferable for the Cowboys; it’s cheap, team-friendly, and fits Dallas’s need perfectly. Florida corners who have entered the NFL as of late have been total flops (Vernon Hargreaves III, Teez Tabor), but for some reason, Henderson feels different.
So, Jerry Jones, when the Cowboys are on the clock, if you’re determined to go with a corner, there’s no point in giving up valuable resources for a replaceable position. Draft Henderson. Just do it, and make this defense a whole lot better.
Option #5: Draft Alabama S Xavier McKinney in Round 1
Everyone projecting LSU safety Grant Delpit to the Cowboys at 17 is just lazy or hasn’t watched Delpit in real life. There’s a link below on why Delpit is overrated, so check that out below after reading this. McKinney, however, is the best safety in this class; if Dallas takes him, he’s a Day 1 starter and will be the crown jewel of this defense for years to come.
The most likable aspect of McKinney’s game is his versatility. He’s an excellent deep safety, and he’s an excellent box safety. This would be a good problem for the Cowboys to have because McKinney can do literally everything. However, because they need help in coverage and tackling, McKinney’s ideal role would be similar to that of former Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick, who simply reads his keys and then plays the ball.
Speaking of the ball, McKinney is also one of the best tackling safeties in this class. He can hit too; just the energy of him making a big hit hypes up an entire defense, giving him that “alpha dog” mentality. The Alabama safety loves being around the ball, and primarily thrives when it comes to reading plays, and going after the football.
He can blitz, he can play the role of deep safety in 2-high, and he sure has a nose for getting the ball back to his offense. The element of luck is also on his side, as there have been many Alabama safeties who have played really well in the NFL (Eddie Jackson, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix). This kid is the ultimate safety prospect, and not drafting him would be a huge mistake.
If Cowboys fans are getting Jamal Adams vibes, first of all, don’t, because the two aren’t the same player. Once again, McKinney is better in coverage, but Adams is a better football player. Second, a safety on a rookie contract is the best situation possible, because it saves cap space for the team to spend on other needs.
The downside to that is the uncertainty of a prospect, but with good coaching, there’s no limit to how good McKinney can be. This is one of the rookies who could make an impact similar to the one of Derwin James Jr (his pro comparison) with the Chargers. After carrying an injured 2019 Alabama defense devoid of talent, the change would be good for McKinney and the Cowboys.
The team gets an incredible safety prospect, and the former Alabama safety becomes the alpha of a more talented defense. Again, Jerry Jones, just make the pick and hand the card in. No need to think, no need to discuss; just do it.