A common cliché in sports is that players tend to fare better in a “contract year.” The reasoning is obvious – players want to max out their value heading into free agency.
Well, the Dallas Cowboys’ secondary should be in good shape. Four of their top six defensive backs are going into contract years with cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church, set for free agency following the season.
“I look at it like I view my career. I’m coaching for my job every year and they’re playing for their careers every year,” secondary coach Joe Baker said last weekend at the rookie minicamp.
“So we all have to have that sense of urgency. We’re also coming off of a disappointing season, so there’s not greater motivation than that.
“We’ve all got our contract issues and we all know we were better than our record last year and we have to go out and prove it.”
The Cowboys had the fifth-best passing defense in the league a year ago, holding opponents to 227 passing yards a game. But that number may be a little misleading. Most opponents had a comfortable lead and opted to run the ball and clock en route to a win.
And the defense had the second-fewest interceptions in the NFL a year ago, recording only eight. Carr didn’t have an interception for a second consecutive season, and Claiborne also went without an interception in the 11 games he played.
The Cowboys interception leader wound up being reserve safety Jeff Heath, who had two. Backup corners Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell each had an interception, and so did Wilcox. The rest of the interceptions were courtesy of linebackers Sean Lee and Rolando McClain, and defensive end Greg Hardy.
But Baker is confident this season will be better. He likes the two sixth-round picks the Cowboys added in the draft – safety Kavon Frazier and cornerback Anthony Brown – and was happy to see a team-first attitude by Carr and Claiborne earlier this off-season.
Carr agreed to a pay cut in the final year of his deal, and Claiborne returned on a one-year deal instead of heading elsewhere in free agency.
“It’s huge. The big thing is their approach,” Baker said. “I know some people who feel disappointed in what they’ve seen from Mo Claiborne, but what I’ve seen is a guy who has battled back from a bunch of injuries. And each time he’s been excited and determined to be a great player and that’s what I see now. Hopefully he gets a chance to stay healthy and show everybody what he can really do.
“And then I think with Brandon, in terms of his contract, to me that showed a real willingness and a real want to be here. Right now, he’s all-in and the thing you say about Brandon Carr is that guy has started every game for eight years of an NFL career. There are not many guys that have done that, so I have a lot of love for both of those guys.”