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2020 NFL free agency: Should Giants be in bidding war for CB Byron Jones?

Reports are that the Giants might be big-game hunting at cornerback

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles
Byron Jones breaks up a pass intended for Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The New York Giants finished the 2019 season with an incredibly young group of cornerbacks trying to cover NFL wide receivers. As we know, it didn’t always go well.

There has been much speculation that the Giants might use their considerable salary cap space to shop at the top of the market for defensive help when free agency opens in less than two weeks. Well, the top of the cornerback means Byron Jones of the Dallas Cowboys.

Should the Giants be willing to spend big money on the 2015 first-round pick? Let’s take a closer look.

The basics

Age: 28 in 2020 season
Height: 6-feet | Weight: 205
Position: Cornerback
Experience: 5
2019 stats: Games: 15 | Tackles: 46 | Interceptions: 0 | Passes defensed: 6 | Forced fumbles: 1
2019 salary: $6.266 million

Pro Football Focus: Overall grade: 76.1 (14th among cornerbacks) | Run defense: 75.1 | Pass coverage: 74.8 | Passer rating against: 94.1 (53 targets, 30 receptions, 56.6 percent completions allowed)

The skinny

Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network, one of the most well-connected NFL insiders in the media industry, reported recently that he has been told to “expect the Eagles and New York Giants to get into a bidding war for Jones.”

Is that a good idea for the Giants?

Drafted originally as a free safety and converted full-time to cornerback in 2018, Jones has shown to be an excellent coverage cornerback. In two seasons as a full-time cornerback, he has allowed only 67 completions in 122 targets (54.9 percent).

Entering his age 28 season, Jones came out of UConn with incredible measurables and athletic testing scores that should allow his athleticism to hold up during a lengthy second contract.

Perhaps the big concern in giving Jones a huge contract is the lack of game-changing plays he has made. He has only two interceptions in 79 NFL games, none since converting to cornerback in 2018. He had only six passes defensed in 52 2019 targets. Are teams just staying away from him?

PFF writes:

A move to cornerback rejuvenated Jones’ career in 2018, as he showed that he could play single coverage on the outside at a high level. He finished with the 14th-best coverage grade among corners in 2018 (80.4) before dropping to 21st in 2019 (74.8), but those are extremely valuable numbers as he hits the open market. Many will point to Jones not picking off a pass over the last two years, but his 74.1 coverage grade in single coverage is 11th-best during that time, and he has also shown the ability to match up against tight ends when called upon. Jones brings youth and coverage ability to the open market, making him the top defensive free agent heading into the offseason. ...

Over the past two seasons, Jones has an 85.1 overall PFF grade, which ranks No. 6 among all cornerbacks. Jones and Stephon Gilmore are the only two corners to rank inside the top 15 in each of the past two years, but while Gilmore has a PFF grade in the 90s over a season in that time, Jones hasn’t been able to come close to those heights.

In that two-year span, Jones also has zero interceptions, but he has 15 pass breakups and the fourth-best forced incompletion rate of any corner in the game. He has allowed a completion rate of only 50 percent over that span, but he has occasionally been beaten for significant plays, allowing six touchdowns. He is a player who makes it very difficult for you to complete passes, but he isn’t a significant threat to force turnovers and punish the opposition for testing him by intercepting those targets.

Jones would, obviously, significantly upgrade the Giants’ secondary. His price tag, though, would significantly impact their payroll. Over The Cap estimates Jones will be looking at a five-year, $80 million deal (16 million per year) with more than $50 million guaranteed. Spotrac estimates $70.9 million over five years ($14.1 million annually).

It would be no surprise if what Jones ends up signing for is north of those figures. Could that number reach $20 million annually? Maybe not, but Jones figures to surpass the $15.05 million annually that currently makes Xavien Howard of the Miami Dolphins the league’s top-paid cornerback.

RJ Ochoa of SB Nation’s Blogging The Boys says:

“Byron Jones represents a lot of indecision from the Cowboys over the last five years. His athletic prowess left them befuddled as to what his true position should be, and it took until his fourth season for them to realize that he is an elite cornerback. That’s what Byron is, but the Cowboys seemingly decided long ago to let him walk. It’s the issue when you have a lot of people to pay, and wherever he goes, despite a low interception number, he is going to be very good.”

Should the Giants be the place he goes?