In their defensive backfield, the Cowboys are suddenly beginning to look a little like the Eagles circa August 2011, when Philly had just acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, and Asante Samuel was still on the roster. They were the example of an experiment in how to assemble the pieces of an ideal secondary in today’s NFL, a title that may be shifting to the Cowboys now.
An abundance of corners isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s often a necessity.
When the Cowboys signed Brandon Carr during free agency and traded up to draft Morris Claiborne, cornerback Michael Jenkins became potentially expendable, and it was assumed that the congestion of high-end talent at cornerback in Big D would be alleviated at some point during this offseason through a trade. Jenkins would be the guy to go, and rumors have peaked and died since the draft. Late last week Jenkins was connected to the Lions, a team highly in need of a CB after the departure of Eric Wright.
The Colts have also been widely connected to Jenkins, but neither trade happened, and a trade probably won’t happen. Late last week ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said that there’s “basically zero chance” that Jenkins is traded. The reason is simple: the Cowboys like Jenkins, and he’s really, really affordable. They like him a lot, and they know that in today’s NFL where teams that enjoy passing the ball have also enjoyed winning games, employing a surplus of defenders who can restrict passing yards is probably a good idea.
It’s May, so anything Dallas says or doesn’t say right now regarding Jenkins should be read with a large salt shaker located close to your keyboard. Still, the latest report is radical enough that it warrants attention, and it actually makes sense. Between Jenkins, Claiborne, Carr, and Orlando Scandrick, the Cowboys plan to put four cornerbacks on the field regularly.
Exactly how much “regularly” is remains to be seen, but Cowboys defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson told NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport that league trends have dictated frequent use of nickel formations for defensive success.
“This league has become a passing league. Look at what the quarterbacks are doing and how the game is kind of evolving a little bit, how they protect the quarterbacks, and rightfully so. The more cover guys you have, the better off you’ll be on defense. So any time we can put cover guys on the field in a pass situation and let those guys match up, I think it helps our defense. We’ll look to do that some if the opportunity presents itself.”
There’s no debating Henderson’s logic. You can rhyme off the familiar refrain now quicker than I can type it–this isn’t 1996 anymore, when clock control and running dominated the game. Last year two quarterbacks broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record, and two more can dangerously close.
But while there’s logic behind Henderson’s words and the similar thoughts expressed by Jerry Jones regarding Jenkins, there may not be total truth. There’s a strong possibility that while the passing renaissance is definitely a factor, it isn’t the primary reason why Jenkins could remain on the roster at least until training camp. Instead, Jenkins could stay deep in the heart of Texas despite a diminished role because of simple finances.
The 27-year-old is due to earn just $1.052 million in 2012 during the final year of his contract. That’s a minimal fee for a former Pro Bowler who will now be used as a quality depth player. As ESPN’s Calvin Watkins notes, Dallas’ top three corners missed a combined nine games last year with injuries, which contributed to the secondary’s woeful 244.1 passing yards allowed per game (23rd).
The trade market is always fluctuating, but right now there isn’t much demand for a corner who missed four games last year with a pleasant cornucopia of injuries, and can be purchased on the open market in a year anyway. So for Dallas, holding on at a minimal price to retain more depth is an appealing strategy, and if they can work four corners onto the field at the same time regularly, that’s a bonus.