With a little under two weeks left until free agency begins, reports of possible signings are beginning to heat up around the NFL. One such potential signing is Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones, who is just about guaranteed to suit up in another uniform this coming season. But who might be in the mix for his services?
According to PFN Insiders Tony Pauline and Ben Allbright, the Philadelphia Eagles sit at the top of the leaderboard, with the New York Giants also in the mix. Beyond that, Allbright reports that the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Chargers will also make a push for Jones. What’s most interesting, though, is what Pauline stated in his most recent mailbag regarding a potential bidding war for Jones.
“Throughout the week of the NFL Combine, everything I heard pointed to the Philadelphia Eagles being the favorite for CB Byron Jones. Then late in the weekend, someone told me to ‘expect the Eagles and Giants to get into a bidding war for Jones.’ As I reported last week – Jones is going to make a lot of money and he’ll be able to pick the team he wants to play for.”
Pauline expanded on this in the most recent edition of PFN’s NFL Draft Insiders Podcast, where he noted that while the focus is on the Eagles and Giants right now, there is always a possibility that a team can swoop in at the last minute.
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A reliable presence and a solid contributor
It is no surprise that there will be heavy competition for Jones’ signature, as he has proven to be a durable option during his time in Dallas. The first-round pick has been on the field for 79 of the 80 games the Cowboys have played in the five years since they drafted him.
2018 was a strong season for Jones, as we can see from his stats on Pro Football Reference, registering 67 tackles, 14 pass deflections and 2 tackles for loss. While 2019 did not produce those numbers, he put up better numbers in coverage last season than 2018. He was targeted 64 times in 2018, with a completion percentage allowed of 53% and 10.4 yards per completion. Additionally, he missed just one tackle in 2019, compared to four in 2018.
Jones would fill a major need for the Eagles
The secondary for the Eagles was somewhat of a revolving door of options in 2019, both due to injury and poor performance. Ronald Darby was the only cornerback to start more than 10 games for the Eagles last season, and his numbers in coverage were not pretty. Per Pro Football Reference, Darby allowed a completion percentage of over 64% on 67 targets with an average of 16.7 yards per completion. On top of that, he allowed six touchdowns and missed seven tackles.
In fact, only one cornerback for the Eagles in 2019 outperformed Byron Jones in coverage, and that is Sidney Jones. Jones played in all 16 games but only started in four and played just 29% of the Eagles defensive snaps. However, when he was on the field, his numbers were strong, with a completion percentage allowed of 51.6%. He allowed slightly more yards per completion than Byron Jones, 13.1, but held opposing quarterbacks to a lower pass rating.
The Eagles desperately need to solve their issues at cornerback in 2020. Free agent Byron Jones could provide them with both the level of performance and consistent presence that they lacked in 2019.
What about Jones’ other options?
Despite their struggles on the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles are not the only team that needs Jones to help bolster their secondary. The Giants defense was shredded at times in 2019, with their secondary offering little resistance to opposing passing games.
Jones could provide the stabilizing force for a defense which ranked 29th in net passing yards per attempt allowed, and 25th in both touchdowns allowed and interceptions. With Janoris Jenkins having been released and rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker struggling last season, Jones’ veteran presence could help the Giants secondary bounce back in 2020.
Both the Chargers and Redskins are less desperate for a veteran cornerback presence, but that does not mean they would not welcome one. Both teams ranked in the bottom half of the league last year in net passing yards allowed, and Jones would instantly be a starter on both rosters.
The ultimate question for Jones will be about the money on offer and whether he wants to be on a competitive team. If the second part if important to Jones, then signing in Philadelphia or Los Angeles could be the most intriguing situation.
At the end of the day though, as Pauline noted, Jones will have his pick of the litter when it comes to deciding where he wants to play.