When 2020 NFL free agency opens in March, it's a safe bet the Dallas Cowboys will have one of the biggest imprints on the offseason, what with three different big-name starters -- quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper and cornerback Byron Jones -- set to hit the open market.
It's arguably the least heralded of the trio, however, that could end up making the most waves.
Byron Jones should be the top corner available in free agency, and CBS Sports contributor Joel Corry, a former agent and salary cap expert, anticipates he'll be one of the top earners outside of the QB position -- so much so that the 27-year-old defensive back is not only likely to price his way out of Dallas but become the NFL's new highest-paid DB.
"Anything under $16 million per year with fewer than $50 million in overall guarantees would be surprising," Corry said. "I doubt he's back in Dallas. I've thought his long-term fate with the Cowboys was sealed when (right tackle) La'el Collins signed a contract extension at the end of last preseason."
In reality, the Cowboys can afford to keep everyone they want. Ideally, they would have Prescott signed without using the franchise tag, which would then leave that tag for Cooper, the consensus top WR available. But they still refuse to get into a bidding war for Jones, according to sources close to the situation. They may very well use the transition tag as a valuation tool for Jones, though it's not a guarantee they'll even do that; they simply want the option.
Even then, it's unlikely Dallas will match what someone else is willing to pay the 2018 Pro Bowler. Sources close to the situation indicate the Cowboys will cap Jones' offer at around $12.5 million per year, perhaps even nudging to $13 million per season on something like a four-year deal. But that's not keeping him around considering his market, not to mention the fact a transition tag would permit other teams to make him offers -- offers Dallas almost certainly would not match.
, the Cowboys will "make their firm offer and stand by it, willing to lose Jones in the process with an eye on possibly double-dipping at the defensive back position in this year's draft."
Keeping him in tow is something they'd love to do, but they won't set the market with him, and I'm told his future is indirectly -- if not directly -- tied to what happens on the defensive line. If (coach Mike) McCarthy and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan view an elite edge rusher as more important than a shutdown corner (and they will), Jones is staring at the short end of the stick -- even if it's not his fault the Cowboys flexed him like a Slinky for the first three years of his career.
If Jones isn't returning to Dallas, then where could he be headed?
It's entirely possible, if not likely, he lands with the rival Philadelphia Eagles. They won't be the only team after him, but among potential suitors, they would not mind outbidding others to fill a desperate need for long-term CB help. They've been fans of his makeup since the 2015 draft. They have more money to spend than in years past, entering free agency with a projected $42.3 million in 2020 cap space, and are expected to part ways with impending free agent CB Ronald Darby. The Cowboys, meanwhile, won't let the "who" wants Jones sway them one way or another in their own financial decision.
The Cowboys' other rivals can't be ruled out as suitors, either. The Washington Redskins will be looking for defensive upgrades under new coach Ron Rivera and are fresh off the release of CB Josh Norman. The New York Giants, meanwhile, have the Jason Garrett connection as well as a dire need for a shutdown cover man.
In fact, odds are pretty strong that Jones remains in the NFC East even as he becomes one of the league's top-earning corners. And while it's still possible that's in Dallas, it's equally feasible he suits up for one of the squads that takes on Dallas twice a year.