It's free agency time in the NFL, which means it's time for the Dallas Cowboys to deploy their usual tactics of waiting out the first wave of overpaid contracts and instead focus initially on retaining in-house talent. That mission got off to a running start when they awarded two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott a historic four-year contract, and the other dominoes have now begun falling. And while their latest retention isn't as bombastic as that of securing Prescott, it's a move that keeps one of the best cornerbacks on the team -- namely Jourdan Lewis -- in uniform for the foreseeable future.
The 25-year-old cornerback is re-signing with the Cowboys on a three-year deal worth up to $16.5 million, his agent announced Wednesday, securing his services through the 2023 season. It's a big keep for the Cowboys, who waved goodbye to former 2017 second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie to a heftier three-year deal from the Cincinnati Bengals, with Lewis not-so-arguably being the better of the two defensive backs -- notably having been selected with the team's third-round pick the same year Awuzie got the draft call.
If there was ever a choice between keeping one or the other, Lewis had to be the one. His contract breaks down to $13.5 million with upwards of $3 million in incentives and escalators, along with $7.75 million guaranteed and a $3.5 million signing bonus -- plus a variety of roster bonuses.
He'll hit the Cowboys salary cap in 2021 for only $2.62 million (1.3 percent).
While he's most New York Giants in Week 17, that's not been his character at any level of his football career. Seeing there was no pattern of such behavior previously, the Cowboys forgave him for the transgression, and now look forward to him being the anchor at nickel corner going forward. It's a position once owned in Dallas by Anthony Brown, who has proven himself a capable starter in that role, but it was no secret Lewis was mostly shelved due to size by previous defensive coaches Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard.against the
For his part, however, Lewis remained the consummate pro and competitor throughout that stretch.
"I control what I can control," he told CBS Sports in July 2019. "And that's how I prepare to play. I can't grow another inch. I don't control that."
True to his word, he controlled what he could, and that was his ability to take the ball away and help sway the outcome of games for the Cowboys. In a time when the team was dying of starvation in the takeaway category, Lewis established himself as not only a physical corner who would operate in coverage and blitz packages alike, but that he also had a nose for the ball -- like few others on the team.
That very season, he grabbed two interceptions and a fumble recovery to go along with 38 combined tackles, and in only five starts.
Due to Brown's battle with injuries in 2020, Lewis saw much more starting time, but the change to Mike Nolan and Maurice Linguist -- much like what was seen with safety Xavier Woods -- led to a down season in both production and overall impact on games. The good news for Lewis is that the Cowboys, who have now parted ways with both Nolan and Linguist, replacing them with Dan Quinn and Joe Whitt, Jr., aren't willing to debit last season from the account of Lewis' potential, having seen what he can do with the right coaching and with reps as a starter.
And this brings us to the question of Brown, who himself was awarded a three-year deal one year ago. In re-signing Lewis, the Cowboys are mostly set at nickel corner if they keep Brown onboard and he can remain healthy, after having logged only eight starts in 2020; but also grabbing two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the process. The injury concern won't suddenly go away, though, considering he started in just four of his nine available games in 2019, just ahead of the Cowboys awarding him a multi-year deal.
As it stands, sources tell CBS Sports, the plan is to keep Brown onboard for the 2021 season, but that's not written in stone just yet. Should they find themselves needing additional cap space, they know releasing him as a pre-June 1 cut would yield them $2.75 million in savings after a $3 million dead money hit is deducted, with the savings nearly doubling to $4.25 million if labeled a post-June 1 release -- the dead money hit on the latter falling to just $1.5 million.
If he's released in 2022, they'll save $5 million regardless of when he's let go.
What they do in the 2021 NFL Draft will go a long way in determining the future of Brown in Dallas, but so will the plan for Lewis, who opted to remain on a team that once stifled his ability to produce due to his size. This hints at a discussion promising him a bigger role going forward under Quinn and Whitt. As the new defensive coaching regime makes their decisions, they'll take all of this and more into account, including Brown's value as someone who is also not a stranger to playing opposite CB1 as needed.
But, again, the team might resolve that need in free agency and/or the draft, leaving a hill of questions that will all be answered in due time. They've already provided one in making sure Lewis stays right where he is.