INDIANAPOLIS — The Dallas Cowboys’ tone on cornerback Byron Jones continues to sound ominous.
It also continues to stand in contrast to the team’s tone describing the looming free agency of quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper.
Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones reiterated Monday that the team expects to keep both offensive weapons. "Absolutely not" will Dallas let Prescott walk.
No such guarantee for Byron Jones, who’s started 73 games since Dallas selected him in the first round of the 2015 draft
“He’s had a great run at corner,” Stephen Jones told Dallas reporters Monday afternoon from the NFL scouting combine. “Byron’s a guy we think a lot of.”
The difference of opinion hinges on price. In five seasons with Dallas, Byron Jones has notched 347 tackles and allowed an average of 6.2 yards per target in pass coverage. He played both corner and safety as a rookie, as the Cowboys tried to capitalize on the same athleticism that powered Jones to a world-record, 12-foot-3 broad jump at the 2015 NFL combine. Jones then spent two seasons at safety, before playing 2018 and 2019 at cornerback. He was tight in coverage and selected to the Pro Bowl in 2018. But through five seasons, Jones has forced few takeaways. He’s intercepted just two passes and forced three fumbles in 79 games.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones: “Defense is the priority for this offseason.”
With salary-cap resources headed toward Prescott and Cooper, Stephen Jones indicated the Cowboys are unlikely to pay what the corner will command.
“He’s played really well, played at a high level and that’s the hard thing when you have quite a few good players on your football team: You get challenges,” Stephen Jones said. “Byron understands that. But at the same time, he’s worried about Byron, as he should be.
“Certainly we’ll visit with his guys while we’re here, kind of see their direction and what they’re thinking. And we’ll have to keep moving.”
Without Byron Jones, corner will be among the Cowboys’ top needs in free agency and the draft. Cornerbacks Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin also are set to enter free agency. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis remain as depth. The Cowboys also will need to address safety and defensive line as 2019 starters’ contracts expire.
“In general, defense is the priority for this offseason,” Stephen Jones said. “It’s fair to say it’s a focus of ours.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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