Editor's Note: The Cowboys currently have 20 players slated to enter free agency when the league year begins in March. Some of those players are key contributors, while others are role players. In this series, Bryan Broaddus will take a look at all 20 free agents, assessing how they performed in 2015 and how they might fit into the Cowboys' future.
IRVING, Texas – It's an interesting quirk that, as the Cowboys prepare to pick No. 4 overall in the NFL draft, they have a contract decision to make regarding their last top-10 pick.
The Cowboys traded up to take Morris Claiborne at No. 6 overall back in 2012, making him the third top-10 pick since Terence Newman back in 2003. Newman and fellow top-10 draftee Tyron Smith worked out slightly better than Claiborne, however. The cornerback's career has been hindered by injuries, and that played out once again in 2015.
There's a decision to be made about whether the Cowboys bring Claiborne back for another try this spring, or cut ties. But that's not their only call to make in the defensive backfield. There are four defensive backs on this roster with uncertain futures – all of which must be considered.
Let's take a look:
2015 Performance:Claiborne had an outstanding start to the season after making it through training camp without any issues. He was the Cowboys' best cornerback on the field in dealing with Julio Jones. Played in tight coverage and was able to deny him the ball throughout the day. In fact, he played with confidence and technique is several key matchups throughout the season until he was injured in the Tampa Bay game. He came back to play well against Washington in a victory but again missed the final three games with a hamstring injury.
2016: Forecast:At this point, he might need a fresh start in his career. He has had to not only deal with injury but the disappointment of not living up to the expectations of his lofty draft selection. I have to believe that it has taken its toll -- not only mentally but physically, as well. Claiborne is saying all the right things about wanting to come back and give it another go, but it will be interesting to see if the club feels the same way at the end of the day.
2015 Performance:This is the type of player that is always going to give you everything he has each week. He has always been a core special teamer and has been outstanding in that role. Plays with physical and mental toughness, and he is one of those players that is always around the ball. Heath did a much better job with his overall coverage in 2015 – handled those situations better. But he did get in trouble with a defensive holding call that cost the defense a chance to seal a victory against Tampa Bay.
2016: Forecast:He can help this roster as a backup third safety and special teamer. Can be an impact player in the kicking game. His size, speed and toughness gives him an advantage in the things you can ask him to do. He's one of those guys that doesn't say much but leads the team by the way he prepares and his knowledge of the game. When building your 53-man roster, you need to make sure you have players like him on it.
2015 Performance:You can't always look at the numbers to judge how well a guy played during the season. McCray ended the season with four special teams tackles, but his blocked punt against the Eagles in Week 2 was a game-changer. McCray is always going to do things the right way and how it was coached on the practice field during the week. He's really limited in what he can do physically, but he is always prepared to handle the game on the mental side. Very steady and reliable in his assignments and techniques.
2016: Forecast:Veteran player that has developed as a core guy – but he is subject to money and youth. Those factors will likely determine whether the front office decides to bring him back. He is one of those players that you would like to bring back -- if you can make it work under your terms.
Josh ThomasHeight: 5-11
2015 Performance:Thomas was brought in to provide depth the final week of the season. Only saw action as a practice player and no action in the game.
2016: Forecast:I don't see him coming back – club likely to go in another direction during the draft or after it.