Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr signing elsewhere leaves the Dallas Cowboys with a bigger need than ever at cornerback.
No one expected the Dallas Cowboys to be very active in 2017 NFL free agency. Even if they’d released Tony Romo on Day 1, they still would’ve ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of cap space. Subsequently, they’ve been bargain shopping over the first week of the new league year. However, they were met with unfortunate news on Thursday as Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, their two starting cornerbacks from 2016, were signed by other teams.
Carr is headed to the Baltimore Ravens while Claiborne will join the New York Jets, joining both Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox as members of the Cowboys 2016 secondary to sign elsewhere. While Jeff Heath can at least be serviceable at strong safety, though, the Cowboys now face a dangerous reality at cornerback looking ahead to the 2017 season.
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Admittedly, the Cowboys front office was certainly aware that this was a possibility. Even if the hope was that one of Carr or Claiborne would take a discount to re-sign, the notion was far from something to dismiss. Subsequently, the hope would be that Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and the rest of the decision-makers in Dallas had some sort of contingency plan.
However, it’s hard to say just what that contingence plan is at this point. In terms of addressing the secondary, all the Cowboys have done this offseason is sign former Philadelphia Eagles corner Nolan Carroll. If you don’t remember Carroll, watch a replay of the Eagles in 2016 and you’ll probably see him getting burned.
With Claiborne and Carr leaving, the Cowboys starting corners outside would likely be Carroll and Anthony Brown, who played well as a sixth-round rookie, but also still has a ways to go in terms of his overall effectiveness. In the slot, veteran Orlando Scandrick is likely to take up residence. If that starting trio of corners is uninspiring to you, that’s because it should be. That’s not a group you can easily put a great deal of faith in.
The frightening part about that starting trio, however, is the fact that there is what amounts to no depth behind them. Or rather, there is no depth that has given any indication that they could fill in if called upon. Of the players that the Cowboys are paying currently, the cornerbacks behind Carroll, Brown and Scandrick read like so: Leon McFadden, Sammy Seamster, Duke Thomas, Jeremiah McKinnon.
Of those four players filling out the depth chart and corner, there are a combined 37 appearances in the NFL—34 of those belong to McFadden. What’s more, McFadden, since coming into the league as a third-round pick in 2013, has been below-average for the most part in his performance.
With limited cap room still—regardless of having Romo on the roster still—the Cowboys now face a relatively critical situation as free agency enters its second week and with April’s draft looming.
Yes, they don’t have much capital to work with in free agency, even if they release Romo (though they would if they could miraculously trade him). However, it’s not as if any of the corner still left on the open market (save for DeShawn Shead, a restricted free agent) are going to cost much. Therefore, trying to land a veteran like Brandon Flowers to a one-year deal would be a nice move, even with his injury history. However, that’s only going to put scotch tape on a possible geyser looking at the current situation in the Dallas secondary.
That’s where things get interesting for the Cowboys as they approach the 2017 NFL Draft. With their woes in the pass-rushing department, the assumption has been that the 28th-overall pick would and should be used to address that. However, cornerback now looks like a need that’s equally as desperate. Could that then change Dallas’ supposed approach to first round? It’s hard to say with certainty, but the possibility is definitely there now.
If there’s one bit of comfort for the Cowboys and their current predicament at cornerback, it’s the depth of the draft class at the position. Even after the injury to sure-fire first-round Sidney Jones at his Pro Day, Dallas should have the opportunity to select a Day 1 starter at the position if they choose to at No. 28. Hoping to do so at No. 60 would be more of a gamble, but it’s also not out of the question.
What’s clear, though, is that Dallas is in a position where they both have to address serious offseason capital into the cornerback position moving forward, and must do so wisely. Fans and possibly even the front office held out hope that one of Carr and Claiborne would return. They didn’t, now they have to be both swift and smart in addressing a glaring hole. If not, this defense that was held together by spit, hope and Rod Marinelli last season may take a monstrous step in the wrong direction.