What mass exodus of DBs means for Cowboys; what Dallas will need to do to improve secondary

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Despite what can be digested online, the Cowboys will indeed field a secondary in 2017.

The back end of Dallas’ defense just won’t look familiar. The performance level is TBD.

Some observers are saying “peace out” to departing players they deemed as mostly underperforming while panicking about the possible replacements or lack thereof.

Cornerback Brandon Carr, who started every game of his five seasons in Dallas, agreed to terms Thursday on a deal with the Baltimore Ravens that could go up to four years, at $6 million a season. Cornerback Morris Claiborne, a one-time No. 6 overall pick of the Cowboys, is reportedly nearing an agreement with the New York Jets. Safety Barry Church, a defensive captain, has already signed a $26 million deal with Jacksonville. Backup safety J.J. Wilcox is headed to Tampa Bay.

They are among seven defensive players so far that Dallas will let walk in free agency. The powers that be warned beforehand that this would probably happen, considering the Cowboys’ sparse salary-cap room. No matter, this ratchets up pressure on the club to execute a defensively successful draft next month.

The emphasis of the offseason has supposedly been to upgrade the defense, though the opposite has occurred to this point. Dallas has made cursory replacements in free agency, including cornerback Nolan Carroll.

The DBs exiting D-FW amount to a familiar yet oft-criticized crew, even as NFC East rivals add high-profile receivers.

Carr has started all 144 regular-season games of his career, including during the four seasons he spent in Kansas City. He has 15 interceptions, seven with the Cowboys, though just one over the last three seasons. He agreed a pay cut last offseason amid criticism that he hadn’t lived up to the five year, $50.1 million deal signed in 2012. That also marks the last time the Cowboys went all-out on a big free-agency maneuver.

He is coming off a strong 2016, when he led the team’s cornerbacks with 47 solo tackles and followed the opponents’ top receivers at times. He remained something of a social conscience in the locker room, willing to talk about issues outside of the lines, and an active member in the community. Before away games, he would walk the field barefoot, even in cold and snow, to prepare. After the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, he mused about retirement.

One line of thought this offseason centered on the Cowboys being able to bring back either Carr or Claiborne. But it will probably be neither, considering reports had Claiborne commanding $7.5 million a year during his own negotiations with the Ravens. If the deal is finalized with the Jets, they’ll be getting a player who never was able to live up to fans’ expectations, considering the Cowboys’ efforts to move up in the 2012 draft to snag the LSU product.

Claiborne suffered an extensive string of injuries. Dallas brought him back on a one-year deal in 2016, and he turned in the best season of his career. Yet that was before he ended up missing the final nine games of the regular season to another injury. He has just four career interceptions.

Church ranked among team leaders in tackles and served as a leader of the defense. Wilcox made his name on hard hits but was known for struggling in coverage, though the former running back had shown improvement.

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David Moore

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Six defensive players Cowboys lost in free agency _ including soon to be gone Mo Claiborne in this mix _ accounted for 64 starts in 2016.

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So what now? At cornerback, Dallas returns veteran Orlando Scandrick and rookie Anthony Brown, who didn’t have a chance to ease into anything last year because of injuries to others and mostly thrived anyway. Carroll, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal, performed solidly for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, with 55 tackles, one interception and 11 pass breakups.

Dallas will still need to add bodies at cornerback. Draft gurus such as the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock have said the draft is deep in corners, safeties and edge rushers.

The Cowboys need ’em all.

 

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