With quarterback Dak Prescott on the franchise tag for 2020 and a strong incoming rookie class, the Dallas Cowboys are loading up for a deep playoff run. The roster is well-built in most areas, but one position group may prevent the team from reaching its end goal.
Center Travis Frederick retired this offseason, leaving a void in the middle of the offensive line, but Joe Looney should be at least serviceable, and rookie Tyler Biadasz may end up starting sooner rather than later. Tight end is a question mark, but Blake Jarwin has been solid for the past two seasons and will get a chance to prove he can handle full-time duties – Dallas clearly believes in him, as they gave Jarwin a four-year, $22 million extension.
Cornerback is currently the team’s biggest need, as Byron Jones was let go in free agency. The Cowboys had to choose between him, Prescott, and wide receiver Amari Cooper, as they couldn’t afford all three. Dallas made the correct choice, inking Cooper for five years and $100 million and are still attempting to work out a long-term deal with Prescott.
Jones’ departure was the right move for the Cowboys, but it leaves their secondary in a rough spot. Xavier Woods and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are a solid safety tandem, but the CB room does not appear to be nearly as strong. The presumed starters are Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis, with Daryl Worley, Maurice Canady, and rookies Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson II also on the roster.
Brown has been a key part of the Dallas secondary over the past four years, starting 33 of 56 games. His coverage grades over that time ranged from 58.7 to 65.7, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Brown is not a high-level starter, but he isn’t bad either. Certainly a player worth restoring. The question is whether he’ll be able to manage a full-time starting role.
Awuzie was a second-round pick in 2017 and has been a starter for the last two seasons, grading out at a solid 72.3 overall in 2019. He will likely be relied upon as the Cowboys’ CB1 in 2020, and it remains to be seen how he’ll step up to the challenge of replacing Jones.
Lewis, a third-rounder in 2017, has been a solid slot corner for Dallas, and that should continue in 2020. He should be relatively unaffected by Jones’ departure, as Lewis’s responsibilities will remain the same.
Worley was a third-round selection of the Carolina Panthers in 2016, and has typically been a solid run defender but average at best in coverage. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, but spent only a month with the team before being released following an arrest. He was suspended for four games during the 2018 campaign, which he spent with the Oakland Raiders, as well as in 2019.
The Raiders have a reputation for restoring players with character issues, and so do the Cowboys, so it’s not a huge surprise to see Worley in Dallas. He should be a decent amount, and could even start a few games.
Canady spent last season with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets, and is primarily a special teamer, although he has seen a decent amount of defensive snaps. He shouldn’t be counted on to play a major role, but there are plenty of worse options for depth.
Robinson is a fourth-round pick out of Tulsa, and was a sleeper for many in the NFL Draft community. He is a developmental prospect who will likely play on special teams as a rookie.
Diggs is the wild card in the CB room. He was a very good player at Alabama, and was a second-round selection this year. He has good size at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds and didn’t even play CB full-time until his sophomore year. In press man coverage, his WR background is evident; he mirrors receivers well and sometimes looks like he’s running their routes for them. He is physical at the line of scrimmage, and when he’s able to use his long arms to disrupt receivers, it’s difficult for them to get back on track. He doesn’t fare as well in zone and doesn’t have great long speed, so defensive coordinator Mike Nolan must deploy Diggs properly in order to get the most use out of him.
There are a few free agent options still out there, such as Logan Ryan, Aqib Talib, and Dre Kirkpatrick, but the Cowboys don’t have a ton of cap space to work with — and the CB room will likely remain unchanged. It’s not great, but it’s far from the worst in the league.