Commentary

Cowboys could be feeling cornered

Despite Carr's addition, draft exposes lingering issues at underachieving position

Updated: April 20, 2012, 12:47 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

A few weeks ago, Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the signing of Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million contract didn't eliminate the possibility of drafting a cornerback in the first round.

[+] EnlargeMike Jenkins
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIThe Cowboys like Mike Jenkins but won't be afraid to upgrade at corner if the situation presents itself in the draft.
The Cowboys are dealing with some issues at the cornerback position as they head into the final days before the draft.

Starter Mike Jenkins enters the final year of his contract and is seeking a long-term deal. His recovery from shoulder surgery will limit him in offseason workouts, but he's expected to be ready for training camp in late July.

Orlando Scandrick, who received an extension last season, struggled in 2011. Carr, the new kid, will be here for a while.

So where do the Cowboys look first in this draft? Safety? Pass-rushers? Offensive line?

If the Cowboys draft a corner in Round 1, they need to be careful.

LSU's Morris Claiborne, the top corner in this year's draft, will probably be gone by the time the Cowboys draft at No. 14. That leaves Stephon Gilmore, Janoris Jenkins and Dre Kirkpatrick as the best available corners.

Jenkins and Kirkpatrick have character issues each has addressed during discussions with teams.

"Yes, we are keenly aware of issues," Jones said about drafting a player with character problems. "And having done that to the extent we're interested, we're really governing our effort to make sure we've got that assessed right in any of those players' cases relative to the off-the-field areas that they've been criticized in."

Which means the Cowboys would draft such a player if they were confident those problems wouldn't surface again.

So if the Cowboys draft a corner, what does that mean for Mike Jenkins? It probably sends him a message that the team isn't willing to pay him for a long-term contract.

Jenkins has seen the size of the contracts signed by several corners over the past two years: Johnathan Joseph at five years, $48.7 million; Nnamdi Asomugha at five years, $60 million; Cortland Finnegan at five years, $50 million; and Carr. Jenkins has to be thinking he's in their category.

The average guaranteed money for the players mentioned is around $23 million. Not bad.

The cornerback position can be one of weakness for the Cowboys. The lack of plays on the ball has to frustrate the personnel staff. Carr makes plays on the ball, maybe more so than Jenkins and Scandrick. This team needed to improve the position and did so in free agency. If the Cowboys want to enhance it in the draft, it could mean the end for Jenkins' long-term prospects.

The Cowboys like Jenkins, but not enough -- at least right now -- to give him a new contract. You just can't pay everybody, and at some point you have to move on from a player you drafted to someone who could be better.

Time for the mail:

Q: Calvin, most mocks have Mark Barron going to us at No. 14. For some reason taking Barron that early makes me nervous. I'd rather draft for the defensive line. Do you think there is any chance Jerry Jones would go after Fletcher Cox if he is near 14? He just looks like a man among boys and could be a huge boost to our pass rush. -- Jeff (Corpus Christi, Texas)

A: I do like Cox, but he could be gone by the 14th selection. If Cox slips out of the top 10, do you try to move up and get him? Swapping picks is not out of the question for Jerry Jones.

Q: Will Dallas trade down and accumulate more picks? -- Darryl (Tucson, Ariz.)

A: Last year was the first time Jerry Jones didn't make a trade during the draft. Sometimes it's good to stay where you are and get the best possible player. When you trade down, you pass on a number of elite players available to you in the first round. At some point, you have to just get the best player available. Stephen Jones says it all the time. He's right. If David DeCastro is around, go get him. If Mark Barron is there, go get him. You're getting a player who becomes a starter in 2012, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Q: Could the Cowboys consider moving Anthony Spencer to 3-4 DE? -- Jacob H. (Quad Cities, Iowa)

A: Nope. Spencer, while good against the run, isn't big enough to play defensive end in the 3-4. He's 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, and the Cowboys' defensive ends are taller and heavier. Jason Hatcher is 6-6, 302. Marcus Spears is 6-4, 315, and Kenyon Coleman is 6-5, 306. In open space, Spencer is better at beating tackles and tight ends to rush the passer. But in closed spaces, Spencer could get shut down by a tackle who gets his hands on him.

Q: Hey Calvin, considering the Cowboys' struggles in short yardage over the last couple of years, what are your thoughts on the likelihood of the Boys signing Cedric Benson? Any hints of that happening after the draft? -- Tom Ray (Kyle, Texas)

A: Benson had the eighth-most carries on short-yardage runs in the NFL last season with 14. But he had just six first-down runs, tied for 16th. His off-the-field issues should give the Cowboys pause in terms of bringing him to the team. Overall, the Cowboys did struggle in short-yardage situations. The Cowboys tied for 21st in the NFL, converting 51.1 percent of those plays. Signing fullback Lawrence Vickers in free agency along with Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau should help the Cowboys in short yardage.

Q: What is your opinion on the Cowboys drafting Dontari Poe at No. 14, Then using their second- and third-round picks for another selection in the first? -- Ruben James (San Marcos, Texas)

A: I don't believe the Cowboys will draft Poe. He wasn't part of their pre-draft visits, and the last time they drafted a player who didn't visit Valley Ranch was DeMarcus Ware in 2005. Jerry Jones said he was impressed by Poe, so I don't think they're trying to hide their interest in him. But the team probably likes Mark Barron, David DeCastro or Fletcher Cox even more. While impressive to Jones and maybe some in the organization, Poe might not wear a star on his helmet this fall.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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