- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas – Jerry Jones can admit the painfully obvious about the Cowboys’ cornerback situation now.
“We’ve had shortcomings in our secondary for the last three seasons,” Jones said.
No kidding. The Cowboys ranked 20th in passing defense in 2009, 26th in 2010 and 23rd last season. They expect to shoot up those rankings after making cornerback the focus on their offseason spending, recruiting $50 million man Brandon Carr in free agency and paying a steep price to move up in the draft for LSU’s Morris Claiborne.
The Cowboys believe that they’ve turned a glaring weakness into a strength within the last couple of months.
“There’s no question with this draft pick,” Jones said. “Now, with what we gave Carr and what we’re doing here and frankly, we can do some things to get these guys on the field all the time. I’m talking about the corners, for the most part.”
He’s not talking about Terence Newman, who was the last player the Cowboys drafted so high. They cut him last month, a couple of years too late, to be honest. And Jones might not be talking about Mike Jenkins, who is suddenly on the trade block entering the final season of his contract. Asked if he could say Jenkins would be on the Cowboys’ roster this season, Jones quipped, “As long as just because I said it doesn’t make it so.”
Carr, Claiborne and nickel back Orlando Scandrick, who signed a five-year, $27 million contract extension last summer, give the Cowboys supreme confidence in their cornerbacks corps for the foreseeable future.
The Cowboys clearly believe Carr, 25, a four-year starter for the Kansas City Chiefs, has Pro Bowl potential based on the contract they gave him. They believe Claiborne has Hall of Fame potential.
The only player above Claiborne on the Cowboys’ draft board was quarterback Andrew Luck. According to Jones, you have to go all the way back to Prime Time to find the last cornerback the Cowboys scouts considered better than Claiborne.
The Cowboys love everything about Claiborne, but his ball skills really stand out. He had 11 interceptions the last two seasons, including six as a junior in 2011 when opponents attempted to avoid him as much as possible.
The Cowboys think Claiborne has the ability to take a No. 1 receiver out of a game and make a quarterback pay if he is tested. That made it an easy decision to give up two premium picks (14th and 45th overall) to move up eight spots to get one player.
“We didn’t think it was realistic that we’d ever get a player like that,” Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said.
The Cowboys had Newman as the No. 1 player on the board when they drafted him fifth overall in 2003. The Valley Ranch brass, who have no regrets about the Newman pick, believe Claiborne is a cut above because of his ball skills.
“He was one of the top cornerbacks in my eyes around on coverage, but not necessarily going up and making the plays,” Jerry Jones said of Newman.
Nobody would argue that Newman has been one of the league’s top corners the last couple of years. Now that Newman has been replaced, nobody at Valley Ranch would argue that the Cowboys have had decent cornerback play in recent years.
“We’ve been needing to work on the secondary,” Jones said. “When Wade [Phillips] was here, I talked to Wade about it. This is not something that’s new. We had hoped upon hope and certainly Rob [Ryan] had hoped with the head of the pack that Terence could really be what we wanted him to be. So obviously that didn’t work out. That’s just the way it is.
“But I like the way we’ve come back.”