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It’s easy for fans to lose track of players once they leave their favorite organization. After faithfully watching a player for 16-18 weeks a year and for multiple years, a player goes to another squad via free agency or trade and a fan is left with the memory of who that guy was in the uniform they cheer for.
Depending on which team they go to, that player might only get seen in one or two games a season, if that if they switch conferences. That was the case for former Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones, who Dallas decided not to pay big money for and he departed to the Miami Dolphins in 2020.
The Dolphins defense ascended with Jones, going from dead last in defensive DVOA (a Football Outsiders metric that measures performance with opponent strength and game situation in mind) in 2019, up to No. 11 in 2020. More to the point, their passing DVOA went from 32nd to No. 6. Most Cowboys fans (including this writer) figured that adding Jones to the equation was the determining factor, because, well, Cowboys fans don’t really watch Miami play very often.
That apparently wasn’t the case. In fact, Football Outsiders believes that Jones was the worst starting corner in the league in 2020. In their 2020 All Keep Chopping Woods team (a horrible name, but stick with us) they identified Jones and Dan Bailey — two former Cowboys —as the worst consistent starters at their respective positions.
Many Dallas fans were enamored with Jones and felt the organization never appreciated him. He was wrongly moved to safety and wasted two seasons there before Kris Richard placed him at boundary corner in 2018. He flourished in coverage, locking down defenders and rarely giving up touchdowns as QBs went everywhere but in his direction. The one knock, and it was seen as the reason why Jones was allowed to walk, is that he did not intercept passes. Like, at all. For those who believe that interceptions and sacks are overrated statistics that overshadow quality play in 99% of a defender's snaps, this was disappointing but not too big of a deal. Jones' play other than that spoke for itself. For those who hold those plays in the highest esteem they weren't sad to see him go and think Dallas was wise not to shell out the $16 million a year average Jones received making him (at the time) the highest-paid corner in the league.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Here's what FO said about Jones in their annual roundup of the league's worst starters.
Byron Jones signed a five-year contract with Miami this offseason, making him the fifth-highest paid cornerback in football. It is safe to say that, so far, that has not worked out as well as the Dolphins might have hoped. Jones allowed 10.6 yards per target and 17.6 yards per completion, both worst among starting cornerbacks in 2020. His two interceptions are misleading; he set a career low with just three pass breakups and 42 tackles and tied his career high with 10 broken and missed tackles, and his 82.5% deserved catch percentage was the highest SIS has recorded for him as well. Now, to be fair, some of those high average numbers come from the fact that opposing quarterbacks were more likely to challenge Xavien Howard or Eric Rowe; Jones had just 73 targets per Sportradar. But when he was targeted, Jones gave up far too much for someone of his caliber and paycheck. I'd expect him to bounce back next season, but those are not numbers you want to see out of your $82.5-million man.
Jones fans would point to the ridiculously good season turned in by Xavien Howard as an effect of what they saw in Dallas, opponents choosing to go the other direction instead of testing Jones. Howard, who was named All-Pro with 10 interceptions, saw 90 targets compared to Jones' 61 in relatively equal snaps. There's definitely something to be said there. But attributing the Dolphins' defensive rise to Jones misses the fact that Howard played less than 400 snaps in 2019. It was a combination of both that elevated the Dolphins defense. As FO says, Jones is likely to bounce back, but it seems that one year in, the non-buyers remorse many Cowboys fans felt may not have been justified.
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
As for Bailey, his roller coaster over the last several years has been disappointing for those of us (again, read: this writer) who were enamored with his early years in Dallas as one of the league's best kickers. "Split'Em" as he was named by said writer, went on a downward trajectory that led to his surprise release but didn't bounce back for several years until an outstanding 2019. After a three-year decline in field goal percentage (from a league-leading 93.8% in 2015 to 84.4% to 75% to 75%), Bailey bounced back with a 93.1 conversation rate with the Vikings. In 2020, that plummeted to never-before seen depths.
This world is full of terrible jobs that nobody wants to do, but somebody has to. Miner. Sewage worker. Crime scene cleaner. Vikings kicker is fast becoming the NFL equivalent. From Blair Walsh's playoff miss through to the present day, Minnesota quietly endured Buccaneers-level misfortune during the mid-to-late 2010s. Even the heretofore reliable Dan Bailey fell victim in 2020. During one particularly dreadful stretch in early December, Bailey missed six of eight kicks against the Jaguars and Buccaneers. The nadir was that Buccaneers game, in which Bailey went 0-for-4 on three field goals and an extra point at Raymond James Stadium. He recovered to make 13 of his 16 kicks in Weeks 15 to 17, but the Vikings still finished rock-bottom in our measure of field goal and extra point value, behind even the notoriously cursed Chargers.
(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Former Cowboys have company though. Dallas fans should be pretty happy about seeing two rivals on the list as well. The Eagles took home the prize for both quarterback (Carson Wentz) and tight end (Zack Ertz). It's a shame Ertz might also be on his way out of Philadelphia this offseason after Wentz was traded to the Colts.
https://cowboyswire.usatoday.com/lists/dallas-cowboys-ifeatu-melifonwu-2021-draft-scouting-report/ https://cowboyswire.usatoday.com/lists/dallas-cowboys-jaycee-horn-2021-nfl-draft-scouting-report/ https://cowboyswire.usatoday.com/lists/dallas-cowboys-patrick-surtain-ii-scouting-report-2021-nfl-draft/