Philadelphia Eagles: Bryon Jones has to be free agent priority number one

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

As the Philadelphia Eagles turn their eyes to free agency, stealing cornerback Byron Jones away from the Dallas Cowboys has to be priority number one.

The Philadelphia Eagles made a mistake at the top of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Okay, technically, the Eagles made a ton of mistakes in the 2015 NFL Draft, as only one member of the draft class, Nelson Agholor, was still with the team in 2019, but still, one decision reigns supreme over all others: Passing on Byron Jones to later draft Eric Rowe.

Now on paper, the decision made some sense at the time, as the Eagles desperately needed to replace Jeremy Maclin‘s production on offense, and Rowe’s size and length made him an ideal fit across from Byron Maxwell in Bill Davis‘ man-press 3-4 scheme, but when has passing on an elite athletic prospect for a pair of lesser players ever worked out well?

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The Emmit Smith trade maybe, but that’s about it.

To make matters worse, Rowe’s tenure in South Philly only lasted 16 games, as he was traded to the New England Patriots for a conditional draft pick after failing to fit into then-new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz‘s scheme. Did Rowe get a raw deal? I certainly thought so at the time, now, eh, not so much.

Byron Jones, on the other hand, has thoroughly developed into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, one who somehow still has room to grow at the tender age of 27.

Measuring in at a prototypical 6-foot-tall, 205 pounds, with long arms, 4.43 speed, and a record-breaking 147-inch broad jump, Jones was drafted 27th overall by the Dallas Cowboys as a do-it-all -DB to help bolster their then-rock solid secondary, and help he did. As a rookie, Jones appeared in all 16 games, earning five starts at outside cornerback across from Brandon Carr, and starting seven games in place of free safety (and alongside) J.J. Wilcox.

For a rookie still learning the ropes, getting spot starts at a variety of different positions has to be considered a major score, but eventually, the Cowboys had to settle on a position for their cornerstone defensive back to allow him to grow into a dominant NFL defender.

*Spoiler alert* they chose wrong.

Call it a symptom of trying to squeak out a title with Carr, Morris Claiborne, and our eventual frenemy Orlando Scandrick slotted in at cornerback, but the Cowboys opted to permanently transition Jones to a centerfield-manning free safety – a role he would fill until 2018.



Why on earth would a team take a player with Jones’ unique physical attributes and hide him in the back of a secondary where he never has an opportunity to press at the line of scrimmage, never gets to man up on the outside, and is seldom asked to make plays on the ball as a primary defender.

The Cowboys’ loss was certainly the Eagles’ gain, but eventually, even Jerry Jones and company had to realize that they were making a mistake.

With Carr, Claiborne, and Scandrick all gone, the Cowboys transitioned Jones back to cornerback and were rewarded for their eventual ‘come to god’-moment with a fantastic fourth season capped off with a Pro Bowl nod and some secondary All-Pro considerations. I know right? Jones actually performed well in his natural position after having to waste two years of his prime relegated to free safety? Who could have predicted that?

Everyone, literally everyone.

Now in a perfect world – a perfect Cowboys fan’s world if such a thing exists – Jones would re-sign with Dallas after a pair of encouraging seasons at cornerback and continue to develop into one of the league’s premier outside cornerbacks, but in a league with a salary cap, that option feels like, well like not much of an option at all.

Despite having already invested huge money in players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jaylon Smith over the last few offseasons, the Cowboys have around $73 million in cap space going into March. While that number should be encouraging for fans of Big D, as it’s notably higher than the Eagles’ $42 million, when you consider Dak Prescott is heading to a $33 million franchise tag, Amari Cooper could earn a deal worth $20 million, and the team will probably replace Jason Witten with a top-end free-agent tight end, finding the only to pay Jones at his market value, something in the realm of $65 million over five years is borderline untenable.

But once again, the Dallas Cowboys’ loss could be the Philadelphia Eagles’ gain.

As you probably know if you’ve watched an Eagles game over the last decade, Philly hasn’t had an elite cornerback, let alone two, in what feels like forever. Sure, they’ve paid guys like they are elite cornerbacks, with Nnamdi Asomugha, and Byron Maxwell each receiving deals paying out over $10 million a year, but through it all, nothing much has changed.

Signing Jones to a long-term free-agent deal does present the same inherent risk, but his upside is massive.

Jones is big enough to body up any wide receiver in the NFL and fast enough to keep up with even the fastest speedsters the league employs. After having to settle for interchangeably mediocre cornerbacks since 2016, Schwartz could use Jones as a moveable matchup piece who can line up on either side of the field, or even in the slot depending on how an opposing offensive coordinator chooses to attack the Birds’ D. Heck, Jones’ experience at safety could probably allow him to match up one-on-one against a tight end like George Kittle and slow him down like very few linebackers or slot cornerbacks could.

And quite possibly best of all, signing Jones would guarantee he doesn’t somehow make it back to Dallas next season, a two-for-one win that’s almost too good to be true.

Next. Damarious Randall can supplement Malcolm Jenkins. dark

Now to be fair, Byron Jones alone isn’t going to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense elite, as he’ll need to be surrounded with a strong supporting cast of an established player like Jalen Mills, and fresh faces like Damarious Randall (more on his prospects here), but after struggling along with underperforming rookies and stop-gap veterans, spending big on a cornerback crown jewel would finally address the team’s biggest need and set thing up for another title run down the line.