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Byron Jones will likely be the Broncos top target in free agency

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Broncos are putting together a plan for free agency. I’ve wrapped up my “Pay or Pass” series at 1043TheFan.com where we take a look at the Broncos own free agents and determine whether or not to keep them around for the 2020 season and beyond. Now, it’s time to look at free agents outside the building that could be a fit for the Broncos.

Cornerback Byron Jones could be the Broncos top target in free agency.

The Broncos will have a need at the cornerback position, especially if (when?) Chris Harris Jr. moves on in free agency. Sure, they have Bryce Callahan at nickel cornerback – if he plays a game after missing every single contest in his first season with the Broncos. The team needs to likely find a replacement for Harris and then have a competition for the starter on the opposite side of him. Callahan is simply a slot corner and not as versatile as Harris was – so don’t make any plans of him playing outside.

I have been hearing rumblings since the Senior Bowl that Jones was high on the Broncos wish list. Should he be? Let’s take a look.

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Highly Graded

When Jones came out of college, I had a first-round grade on him. While in college at UConn, Jones showed off toughness and leadership on the field. Jones was not afraid of contact and that made him a favorite in the scouting community. He played while banged up and that also earned him a lot of credit with scouts and his teammates in college.

He began his college career as a safety, but he always had the athleticism to switch to cornerback. Jones seemed to always be around the ball for the Huskies and uses his high football intelligence to get involved in the play. He is rarely fooled by play action fakes and did a good job of reading a quarterback’s eyes.

His 12-foot, 3-inch broad jump at the 2015 Scouting Combine was the longest recorded in history. Add in his burst with his length and you can see how Jones makes up ground quickly on receivers down the field.

Armed with the No.v28 overall pick that year, the Broncos moved up in the draft for the first time under general manager John Elway to the No. 23 spot where they selected pass-rusher Shane Ray. Jones was a first-round pick for the Cowboys who nabbed him at No.27 overall.

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Top-Five Corner

Last year was arguably the best season of Jones’ career. Even though his numbers were down from his 2018 breakout season, Jones basically saw fewer passes thrown his way. In 2018, Jones transitioned from free safety to cornerback and made the Pro Bowl in large part due to the 15 pass breakups he had that season.

In 2019, Jones only had five pass breakups but that was due to quarterbacks staying away from him in coverage. It only took one year for Jones to earn that kind of respect and that should continue whether or not he stays with the Cowboys or moves on to another team.

Pro Football Focus had Jones rated as their No. 4 cornerback in the league last year. That’s remarkable considering he didn’t break up that many passes and hasn’t had an interception in his last 40 games.

Even though Jones grades out positively when it comes to advanced data, the Cowboys may be hesitant to give him a contract that pays him North of $12 million annually.

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Fangio Fit

Jones has a skill set that would fit what Broncos head coach Vic Fangio wants him to do on defense. First and foremost, Jones is a smart player who understands how to diagnose plays in front of him. He understands route combinations and is always looking for the ball.

Jones has length that helps him knock away passes. It’s simply difficult to get a pass by Jones due to his burst and recovery speed down the field.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jones is not afraid to tackle. He’s a converted safety and that comes through in his play. While he’s not a thumper, Jones has played in every game of his pro career and has no problem working his way towards the line of scrimmage in run support.

Add in his leadership ability and you can see why Jones would be a nice fit for the Fangio system.

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Summary

The Broncos are playing a dangerous game here – and it’s an expensive one. Jones is arguably the best cornerback available in free agency this year. It’s either him or Chris Harris Jr. if you ask most in the scouting community. With Jones being four years younger than Harris, he should get a more lucrative contract.

The Cowboys have around $16 million more than the Broncos in cap space right now. The latest reports speculate they will be able to get a deal done with quarterback Dak Prescott before the March 10 deadline for franchise-tagging players. That would be bad news for the Broncos.

If the Cowboys are able to get Prescott done without using the franchise tag, it would free their attention to guys like Jones and wide receiver Amari Cooper. They would like to keep all three and they can afford all three given their cap space. By not using the tag on Prescott, that would mean they could use the tag on Jones just to keep him around if need be.

Jones is likely to be the highest-paid cornerback on the market this offseason. It’s not a great cornerback class when it comes to free agency and Jones is entering the prime of his career. The Broncos may want to get Jones to replace Harris on the defense, but the price tag is going to be extravagant.

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