IRVING, Texas – The situation spoke for itself last week in Indianapolis, when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett revealed Morris Claiborne wouldn't be healthy for the team's offseason program.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones put it in blunter terms than that this past weekend. For a variety of reason, including Claiborne's torn patellar tendon, the cornerback position looks to be a trouble spot for the Cowboys as they gear up for the busy part of the offseason.
"Mo has created a problematic situation for us," Jones said. "Mo didn't create it, but his circumstances are problematic for us as we approach what we're doing in the offseason at that position."
Claiborne tore the tendon in Week 4 against the Saints last season, and he was immediately sent to injured reserve. The loss didn't hinder the team too much, as the Cowboys still had their top two corners in Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr, and they received inspired play from Sterling Moore and Tyler Patmon.
Unfortunately, the knowledge that Claiborne won't be ready for the spring – or even for the start of training camp – puts Jones in a bit of a number crunch. Moore, who played in all 16 games and started seven, is an unrestricted free agent.
Perhaps most importantly, Carr is about to count $12.7 million toward the salary cap after two down seasons. Much like Doug Free in 2013, it's been widely speculated that the Cowboys will attempt to reduce Carr's salary in order to keep him on the roster.
"I'm not going to say too much about that because while we've been up here we've had discussions with his agent and we'll see where it goes. I don't have anything to report there," Jones said.
The Cowboys could free up a significant portion of salary cap space if they do reduce Carr's pay – though obviously that's not entirely up to them. As Jones pointed out, the only guaranteed way to get rid of Carr's salary would be to release him, which they likely don't want to do, given the cornerback situation.
"As you well know, this takes two here. It will ultimately fit one way or the other for us," Jones said. "But there's only one part of this thing that could happen that we could do unilaterally. That's one thing. But to have him playing for us if we have dollar considerations then that takes two of us."
To that point, though, Jones said that Carr's contract negotiation is significant enough that it has to stand independently from the decision to re-sign Moore – or any other cornerback, for that matter.
"Carr's situation is his and we can operate within all of the nuances of his situation," he said. "It's significant enough that it stands on its own as to how you can handle it."
It's a situation the Cowboys can't afford to mishandle. As it stands right now, Scandrick and Patmon are the only two corners on the roster with definitive futures for 2015. Even though Claiborne has been disappointing during his career, his potential absence doesn't leave Dallas with many options.
The issue is clearly compounded by Carr's contract, which makes it hard to envision the Cowboys parting ways with him. For the time being, that negotiation looks likely to directly impact the future of the cornerbacks, even if the Cowboys opt to add to the position in free agency or the draft.
"All of that will be considered, and to the extent it's there, will impact, does impact, if not us, but by him and how he looks at it," Jones said.