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What's Next? Cornering the Cowboys DB Formula


There was a ton of flux within the ranks of Dallas' secondary in 2022, largely due to injury, and though there were several positives put on film, there are also many questions to answer

FRISCO, TX — If you watched the Dallas Cowboys closely over the course of the 2022 season, you noticed how unsure the team became in their secondary once the injury bug deleted not one, but two starting cornerbacks and forced a starting safety to battle knee and shoulder issues over the second half of the year.

Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were both lost for the season, and Jayron Kearse missed time with an MCL issue and recently underwent a shoulder procedure to repair an injury suffered on Thanksgiving.

In all, the Cowboys were thrust into finding out early who on their cornerback and safety depth chart was ready for action, who needs more development and who might never be the answer.

And, with that, let's dive into the state of Dallas' secondary this offseason.


Unlike their history at certain other positions — defensive line and running back, as two examples — this is one the Cowboys haven't had a lot of consistent success with their defensive back unit.

They have definitely had their share of dominant and/or elite defensive backs though, and that much isn't up for debate. From Mel Renfro to Everson Walls to Deion Sanders, there have been generational talents that have graced the Cowboys uniform; and they've had other talents worthy of being mentioned, such as Barry Church, but the greatness the team has been chasing at the CB and safety position has proven more elusive than they'd like.

Echoes of Morris Clairborne (the gordita at CB that preceded the Taco at DL) still resonate in my mind, though I try to wash that rancid flavor from my tongue with the good times that were had for the majority of Terence Newman's stretch in Dallas.

At safety, you saw J.J. Wilcox never fully developed, and that forced too much onto the plate of Jeff Heath (undrafted), Kavon Frazier and resident starting free safety Xavier Woods.

Furthermore, and more importantly, the Cowboys found themselves needing (at least in their eyes) to move Byron Jones from cornerback to safety, then back to cornerback, then to safety, so forth and so on.

The flex arguably siphoned an opportunity to see him form into a shutdown corner sooner, and long before he departed in free agency.

In the midst of all of this, at one point or another, Brandon Carr played solid football but without production that matched his contract at the time, Orlando Scandrick eventually gave way to Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown, and a carousel of depth players who aren't going to immediately come to mind for you came and went — something that proves my point.


Enter 2023.

There's plenty to be excited about now, and especially at the safety position. Rolling the dice on Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker paid off in a major way, the two anchoring a safety unit that also featured Donovan Wilson who, in my opinion, is now one of the elite safeties in the NFL.

I was high on Wilson ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft, when he was eventually selected in the sixth round, and he's developed into a game-wrecker as both a blitzer and a coverage ballhawk.

Kudos to the Cowboys for often finding and developing impact talent at safety in the sixth round, by the way, Wilson joining Frazier and Woods in that category — though with a higher ceiling.

Time will tell if Markquese Bell, a talented undrafted safety with a ton of upside, can follow in the footsteps of Heath in becoming a player who not only sticks around for the Cowboys, but can also provide timely game-changing plays (flashback to Heath forcing Derek Carr's fumble at the goal line and landing a PBU in the end zone in that same contest, moments apart).

At cornerback, well, there's a lot more to figure out, Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland notwithstanding — Bland having burst onto the scene as the team's leader in interceptions despite being a rookie fifth-round pick who also didn't become starter until after Jourdan Lewis went down with a Lisfranc injury against the Detroit Lions in Week 7.

Kelvin Joseph disappointed the coaching staff when the former second-round pick was tasked with taking the reins at CB2 following the season-ending injury to Anthony Brown, and the fairly swift decision was made to move to Nahshon Wright (who beat out Trayvon Mullen and Mackensie Alexander).

Wright showed rapid improvement with every game rep, and was only made inactive when the Cowboys determined Israel Mukuamu might be more effective at the position (he's technically a safety in Dallas, though a former collegiate cornerback), and the needle on both is aimed due north.


It's a good thing Wright and Mukuamu are both on the upswing for the future, too, because the Cowboys can't afford a step back at the position.

Brown is set to become an unrestricted free agent and Lewis, as mentioned, is returning from major injury and will use the offseason to work himself back into top form as one of the team's best ballhawks out of the nickel/slot. That's a good bit of uncertainty, but more so in whatever happens from the role of CB4 downward on the depth chart, and in what happens behind Hooker and Kearse at safety.

As to the latter, Wilson is entering his first trip to unrestricted free agency (after a superb season, no less), and he presumably won't be an inexpensive get for any team, be it the Cowboys or anyone else.

It's undetermined if he'll stick around and, should he leave, there will be a gargantuan void that needs to be filled for 2023, and it would be a lot to ask of upstarts like Tyler Coyle, Juanyeh Thomas, Sheldrick Redwine and/or Isaac Taylor-Stuart to immediately step up and fill it.

Bell would have the best shot at it, but he's also being groomed to be a doppelganger to Kearse, not to Wilson.

If Wilson can be retained, the safety position is all set. If he can not be, raise the DEFCON level.

Dropping back down to the CB position, will Brown be re-signed or will the Cowboys determine it's time to go younger? If so, that points toward Wright and Mukuamu, but as starters … or as depth for someone else opposite Diggs (who will also soon begin contract talks)??

I propose there's a chance Bland gets moved to the outside in 2023 to play opposite Diggs, allowing Lewis to return as the nickelback; both Wright and Mukuamu having the ability to play "big nickel" against slot receivers.

Just something to think about there, along with the possibility of the Cowboys using a top pick on a cornerback to make sure they have nothing to worry about next season — having spent the back half of the 2022 season scrambling for answers at CB.

For 2023, leave the scrambling to the quarterback.

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