While free agency officially begins in March, roster turnover isn't too far away. The Cowboys will indeed add and presumably release players, along with letting some go without a new contract.
However, the majority of the 2018 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.
Today, we continue the series with safety Byron Jones.
Views of #31 Safety Byron Jones from the 2017-18 Regular Season.
What's Been Good:
Since his rookie season in 2015, Jones has done whatever is asked of him in the secondary. He has played corner. He has played safety. He has played the nickel. He has successfully defended some of the NFL's best tight ends. Jones' combination of size (6-0, 205) and elite speed – The New York Times recently clocked him as the NFL's fastest defensive back – makes him an asset against the new wave of downfield pass-catching tight ends.
What's Been Bad:
Jones played mostly safety the last two seasons, and during last year's training camp, he appeared to find a comfort level as a playmaker back there. Yet he found himself playing closer to the line of scrimmage last season, and by the end of the year, Kavon Frazier had earned additional playing time in what evolved into a safety rotation. Jones' average defensive snaps dropped from 62.5 in the first 11 games to 44.6 snaps over the final five games. Jones did record his second career interception in 2017 – a pick-six to close out the Washington Redskins in Week 8 – but has acknowledged he must produce more takeaways for the defense. That's a priority for Rod Marinelli's entire group.
Jones had six pass breakups last season, but none more important than his third-down deflection against Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook – the hero of the Packers' divisional-round upset win over Dallas in 2016. Jones' breakup forced Oakland to punt with 6:42 remaining, and the Cowboys would score the deciding field goal on the next drive to ultimately keep their playoff hopes afloat.
The Cowboys hired Kris Richard as their new secondary coach and defensive passing game coordinator, and he'll have input on where Jones' skills fit best. Richard has an excellent track record working with the Seattle Seahawks' defensive backs who went to a pair of Super Bowls. Perhaps corner is a possibility for Jones once again, as has been speculated. Much could depend on how the Cowboys plan to use some of their talented defensive backs, such as Awuzie and Xavier Woods, and the future of veteran Orlando Scandrick, who is under contract through 2019 but wasn't sure in December whether he'd be back for an 11th season in Dallas.
- The curse of Byron Jones is his flexibility.
- The staff raves about his ability to play several different roles, and now looking back that has hurt him.
- He came into the league with questions about where he was going to play. 'Is he a corner or safety?
- They tried him initially at corner his first season then made the switch to safety.
- He's covered some of the best players in the business but he's also had some blown opportunities.
- With Richard now his secondary coach, there is some talk of moving him back to corner for the best fit.
- Jones has one more season on his rookie contract unless the Cowboys pick up his fifth-year option as a former first-round pick.
- What is going to be difficult is if he eventually walks and another club figures out his best spot, then he thrives like he is capable of doing.
- Jones has played in 48 games during his career, which is hardly a bust, but it's a shame in those games we haven't figured out a spot for him yet.