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Progress Report

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Progress Report: What Is AB's Role In 2021?


(Editor's Note: NFL roster change wildly from year to year. This year will be no different, as the Cowboys seek to upgrade their roster via free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 6-10 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of will evaluate those players who are already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we continue the series with Anthony Brown)

The Good: It might say more about the Cowboys' defense than Anthony Brown, but the veteran corner was one of just three players to finish with multiple interceptions in 2020, despite the fact that he missed six games.

Brown had his ups and downs after signing a three-year, $15.5 million extension last offseason. His coverage and positioning wasn't always amazing, but he did manage to finish with 37 tackles, three pass breakups and three takeaways – including a rare defensive touchdown.

In all honesty, Brown's biggest problem was less about ability and more about availability.

The Bad: This past year was actually the second-straight season that Brown has been thrown off track by injury. Back in 2019, he missed the last six games of the season after tearing his triceps.

In 2020, it was a recurring problem with his ribs. Brown was sent to injured reserve for three weeks at the beginning of the season but was able to return by Halloween. The problem crept back up later in the season, and he missed another three-game stretch – including two lopsided losses to Washington and Baltimore.

That's bound to be frustrating. Brown only missed one game in his first three seasons before missing 13 these last two years. That's certainly not to say his play has been perfect, but it would be a start just to have him healthy on a more consistent basis.

Best Of 2020: Considering how rarely the Dallas defense has scored touchdowns in recent years, it'd be a shame not to mention Brown's trip to the end zone.

The New York Giants had built a 17-10 lead in the first half of the Week 5 meeting with the help of a defensive touchdown of their own. Brown helped nullify that late in the second quarter, when DeMarcus Lawrence bullied his way past rookie tackle Andrew Thomas to sack and strip Daniel Jones. Brown, who was trailing Lawrence on a delayed blitz, just happened to be in perfect position when the fumble bounced off the carpet and into his hands, allowing him to run untouched for 29 yards and the touchdown.

It's also worth mentioning that Brown helped kill a rally during the big Week 16 win against Philadelphia.

The Eagles were trailing, 30-17, midway through the fourth quarter, but Jalen Hurts had driven them into the Dallas red zone and were threatening to make things interesting. On 3rd-and-4 from the Cowboys' 17-yard line, Hurts was flushed to the pocket and scrambled to his left. He heaved a prayer to the end zone in the direction of Travis Fulgham – only for Brown to step in front of it for his second interception in as many weeks.

Contract Consideration: Brown is one of the few members of this secondary with a clear future. The Cowboys made him one of the first signings of the 2020 offseason with that three-year deal, which means he still has two seasons left to play.

That's bound to draw some eye rolls from Brown's critics, which is a bit absurd, to be frank.

In the world of the NFL, a $15 million contract isn't much – particularly among cornerbacks, who play one of the game's most demanding and lucrative positions. Brown's 2021 cap hit of $5.6 million is ranked 33rd among NFL corners. There are seven NFL cornerbacks with a larger single-year cap hit than the value of Brown's entire contract.

All of that is to say: the Cowboys clearly prioritized re-signing Brown, but not as a lockdown defender or one of the crucial components of their defense. They're paying him like a solid role player and a capable starter – which is exactly what he is.

What's Next: That's going to depend on what happens in the coming weeks.

Brown has been a steady starter for this team in a variety of different ways. He has made 43 career starts since being drafted in 2016, including eight this past year. He has extensive experience playing out on the boundary and in the slot.

What he does in 2021 will likely be determined by who else the Cowboys add to the roster. It stands to reason that Trevon Diggs will man one of the outside corner jobs in 2021. With Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis heading for free agency, Brown is the logical choice for the other outside job if the season started today.

Fortunately, the season doesn't start today. The Cowboys will have a chance to add talent in free agency, and there's obviously the draft. If they happen to use their No. 10 overall pick on the likes of Caleb Farley or Patrick Surtain II, then perhaps that rookie would play outside while Brown kicks into the slot. If they don't manage to draft a cornerback until later on, perhaps it'd be the opposite.

For the time being, it's a good guess that Anthony Brown will be one of the Cowboys' top three cornerbacks in 2021. Where exactly he plays – and how much – might depend on who's on the depth chart with him.

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