Free agency is here, but the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with cornerback Byron Jones.
* What's Been Good:* A first-time Pro Bowl appearance for a fourth-year veteran who, in his first three seasons, was a man without a permanent position. Jones, simply put, has done whatever the Cowboys have asked in the secondary. He split time between safety and cornerback his rookie season, started at safety from 2016-17, and then accepted the switch to corner last spring under first-year position coach Kris Richard. What a decision that turned out to be. Richard, former Legion of Doom boss in the Seattle secondary, saw Jones as a perfect fit for an outside cover guy: tall, rangy, instinctive, fast, physical. Jones seized the opportunity in training camp and led the defense with 15 pass breakups in 2018, along with 76 tackles. He became the first Cowboys corner to make the Pro Bowl since Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins in 2009.
What's Been Bad: Jones wants more takeaways, period. He has worked at it throughout his career in Dallas to date, and it's the next step in his evolution at corner. He did not record an interception last season (to some degree, that was a product of teams avoiding his side of the field) and he has two career picks in four years, one each in 2016 and 2017. It's not just a focus for Jones but the entire defense, which has ranked mid-pack in takeaways the last three years after tying an NFL record for fewest in a season (11) in 2015.
2018 Highlight: Jones posted a season-best 10 tackles in a Week 5 overtime loss at Houston, but the secondary's most impressive performance was the 13-10 win over 10-1 New Orleans in November. The Cowboys held the Saints 27 points below their season scoring average, and Jones made two key pass breakups -- one on third down to stop New Orleans on its second drive of the game, and another inside the red zone in the third quarter that helped Dallas force a field goal attempt. Both of Jones' deflections were against Pro Bowl receiver Michael Thomas, who had only five catches for 40 yards.
What's Next: The Cowboys picked up the fifth-year option on Jones' rookie contract last spring, keeping him in Dallas through at least the end of next season. He's among several Cowboys Pro Bowl players who could be in line for an extension, though the timing of a deal is uncertain at this point. Jones had clean-up surgery on his hip last week, but the goal is to be back on the field for the start of training camp. He'll be a significant part of the Dallas defense again in 2019.
How can Byron Jones build on his second full season at cornerback? We take a look at Jones' Pro Bowl year in our latest Star Evaluation.
Bryan Broaddus' Bottom Line: One of the first business items for passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Kris Richard when he joined the Cowboys was the evaluation of the defensive roster. Richard, along with the front office, determined that Byron Jones' skill set was better suited for cornerback. The move also allowed them to get their best player on the field with Xavier Woods. Where I knew the transition for Jones had a chance was the number of little side meetings Richard was having with Jones when it came to his technique. Jones has always been a coachable player, and Richard was always willing to provide the direction necessary to help him improve his craft. What Richard didn't need to improve with Jones was his athletic ability. That was on display weekly. It didn't matter who Jones drew, he was up to the task coverage wise. Where I believe Richard helped Jones the most was with his technique. He made him a more complete player, and once he was able to do that, Jones was able to handle the rest. Jones did have a slight drop-off toward the end of the season while dealing with some hip soreness. He would never admit that it affected him, but it was something he's had cleaned up and should be ready to go once the season starts. It's an important season for Jones as he enters the final year of his deal. If he can have another Pro Bowl type season, he will make this front office think long and hard about how to handle it going forward.