The Dallas Cowboys would be well-served to pursue Jason McCourty after he was cut by the Tennessee Titans on Thursday.
Less than ideal would be the kindest terms to describe how the 2017 offseason has played out for the Dallas Cowboys secondary. Strapped by the salary cap (and Tony Romo’s contract), they didn’t have the flexibility to re-sign any of their defensive backs hitting free agency. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr along with strong safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox will all be playing without the star on their helmets in the 2017 season.
Admittedly, both cornerback and safety are loaded positions in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Cowboys will no-doubt look to address those areas come April 27-29. With a need for a pass rush perhaps even more pressing, though, they could still need to keep their options open — especially at cornerback. The issue there, though, is that the market at the position has been run dry largely. Or at least it had been until Thursday.
In a bit of a shocking roster move on Thursday afternoon, Ian Rapaport of NFL Network first reported that the Tennessee Titans were releasing veteran cornerback Jason McCourty. As noted by Rapaport, McCourty had been in Tennessee longer than any other player on the roster. But Tom Pelissero of USA Today reported that the two sides were unable to come to an agreement on a modified contract, thus leading to his release.
After signing Logan Ryan in free agency and armed with the Nos. 5 and 18 picks in the draft, the Titans were in a position where McCourty became expendable at a certain price. They’re a team building something special and, though talented, Tennessee doesn’t have time to bicker about modified options when there are potential contingency plans in place.
The Cowboys are also building something special. They, however, are not in the same position. If they don’t address their defense in a big way — meaning beyond just the draft — prior to Week 1 of the 2017 season, they’re due for a major regression from their 13-3 season a year ago.
Therefore, McCourty should unequivocally be a target for the Cowboys in free agency between now and the start of the 2017 season. They surely won’t be the only team in pursuit of the now former-Titan’s services, but they should make a strong effort to try and land him.
McCourty will be 30 years old at the start of next season, which makes it reasonable as to why the Titans weren’t wanting to pony up the $7 million he was due next season prior to being cut. What’s more, he’s struggled with injuries a bit in the past two seasons. He played in only four games in the 2015 season due to a groin injury. Meanwhile, he played in 14 games this past year, but was battling ailments for parts of the year while on the field.
With that said, McCourty is still a quality cornerback in this league. Even while playing at less than 100 percent for much of last season, he was still an above-average player. Though he might not be the coverage man he was in his prime, he’s a veteran that can still get it done and anchor a young group at the position in Dallas.
Obviously the Cowboys won’t want to pay the cornerback $7 million next season, nor should they. As of right now, they truthfully can’t afford to pay him anything. Dallas has just over $630,000 in cap room to work with right now (Over the Cap). So, for all intents and purposes, they have no money. But that’s not going to be the case for the rest of the offseason.
As both Tony Romo and Doug Free are retiring this offseason, that opens up the door for the Cowboys as it pertains to post-June 1 cuts. If they wait to make that final move then, they’ll add $19 million in space to work with (Over the Cap). Part of that forthcoming space should be used to shop high-profile cap casualties at the same time, sure. But there’s a chance that there’s no player at a position of need available that has the upside of McCourty.
This isn’t to say that Jason McCourty is a long-term option for the Cowboys at cornerback. As stated, he’s 30 years old, which pretty much disqualifies him from that conversation. Subsequently, they don’t want to get locked into a four-year deal or anything of that sort. But if they were able to work out a deal for something around two years, $9 million with the guaranteed money frontloaded for the 2017 season, that would be ideal. Even slightly north of that would be more than passable.
For the most part, the Cowboys defense overachieved last season. There were deficiencies throughout the unit, but they overcame. With the current group of Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown and Nolan Carroll at cornerback, even overachieving might not be enough to get by in the 2017 campaign. Their need at the position is desperate, and now McCourty could potentially fall from the heavens into their lap. This is one of those fortuitous opportunities they can’t pass up at least pursuing.