Dallas Cowboys may be using cheat code to address cornerback position

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: Jourdan Lewis #27 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: Jourdan Lewis #27 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys have been handling the cornerback position rather curiously over the past few years. Most teams search and search for a top-flight cornerback who they can lean on. Once they do find one, they happily pay the man. Cornerbacks are too valuable, and oftentimes, too hard to find, to let go of.

It’s hard to win if you don’t have a reliable boundary cornerback able to play on an island. After all, you can’t double everyone – especially if you’re playing in a single high safety defense as often as the Dallas Cowboys.

Yet, the Cowboys have handled the position differently. Instead of aggressively pursuing a starting cornerback and then locking him up under contract, Dallas has largely used it as a replaceable part. Churning though those outside cornerbacks.

When they seem to finally get their true CB1, they let him walk in free agency. They fill his post with some rookie draft options and then ride it out until they themselves become expensive free agents. Rinse and repeat.

The Dallas Cowboys may be using an undervalued position to gain an advantage

About the only starting caliber cornerback they do want to re-sign is the chronically underappreciated slot cornerback. They re-signed Jourdan Lewis to a multiyear deal this year, and they signed Anthony Brown to a multiyear deal the year before. Heck, before that they repeatedly re-signed Orlando Scandrick as their CB3.

The Cowboys have taken advantage of a market error in the form of an undervalued position and they stand to reap the financial rewards.

The Cowboys have a record of re-signing their nickel cornerbacks while showing very little interest in retaining their boundary cornerbacks. What gives?

Perhaps the Dallas Cowboys don’t value outside cornerbacks. Or perhaps just haven’t found the right fit. Or perhaps they found a weak spot in the market and are happily exploiting it.

Anthony Treash at Pro Football Focus broke down the impact of slot corners and their compensation and decreed that slot corners are grossly underpaid. With the help of PFF WAR, Treash found that slot cornerbacks produce nearly the same value as outside cornerbacks…

As per 2021 payroll data, slot corners are the lowest paid starting position on the defense (since nickel defense is the new base defense). And the position they are usually tasked with covering is one of the most underrated and deadly ones on the field.

As I discussed in my This is the perfect year to draft a slot receiver article, players in the slot recently accounted for 34% of all touchdowns, 32% of all targets, and 32% of all yardage. They are every bit as damaging as outside receivers and the man covering him is every bit as important as well (although I’ll admit, outside CB is still more valuable since it’s harder to fill and faces more disastrous consequences).

Covering the slot is one of the hardest jobs on the football field. Slot receivers can break in either direction and the air travel time is shorter since passes are more direct inside. That’s why many of the top cornerbacks in the league have refused to move inside to follow receivers – they’ll get exposed.

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And it’s not like the yards are cheaper inside than they are outside. More often than not, slot receivers gain more expected points than outside receivers. Multiple times Cole Beasley led the Dallas Cowboys in EPA. So the quality of yardage is just as big, if not bigger, inside than it is outside.

It stands to reason, investing in a good slot cornerback is one of the most efficient investments you can make. And if you can move that slot cornerback to take some snaps outside, you may have found the ultimate financial hack. You’re paying him as the lowest paid player on the field (nickel CB) to play one of the most expensive spots (boundary CB).

Can Anthony Brown or Jourdan Lewis play a little outside? The answer varies depending who you talk to. If the Dallas Cowboys can do that they’ll find ultimate value. But even if they don’t, signing slot cornerbacks is a great investment (assuming you signed good ones). The Cowboys have taken advantage of a market error in the form of an undervalued position and they stand to reap the financial rewards.

Hot. LBs aren't special or irreplaceable. The Cowboys should draft accordingly. light

Next. CB trade options exist for the Cowboys. dark

I wasn’t thrilled the Dallas Cowboys let Byron Jones leave. Nor was I happy they re-signed Jourdan Lewis. But they may have a method to their madness and that may give them an advantage.