Cornerback is an area that needs improvement. That much is obvious.
According to Pro Football Focus, Mike Jenkins, who played through various injuries all season, was the team's best cornerback. He ranked 40th at the position, having been targeted 54 times while allowing 28 receptions for 340 yards and four touchdowns, with a 51.9 completion percentage against him and an 88.5 passer rating against him. The web site credited him with five pass breakups, and he had an interception.
Alan Ball, who is a free agent, was the Cowboys' second-best cornerback, according to PFF. He ranked 82nd, just ahead of Orlando Scandrick at No. 83. Scandrick signed a five-year, $27 million extension before the season, so he is not going anywhere.
Jenkins will enter 2012 in the final year of his rookie deal and will make $1 million. It will be a big season for him with free agency approaching.
But the Cowboys almost certainly will part ways with cornerback Terence Newman. Dallas paid him $8 million in base salary, and Newman counted $10 million against the salary cap. He is due $6 million in base and is scheduled to count $8 million against the cap in 2012. The Cowboys will save $6 million in salary-cap money if they count him as a post-June 1 cut.
Newman was only the 97th-best cornerback in the NFL in 2011, according to PFF. He was targeted 78 times and gave up 49 catches for 797 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterbacks completed 62.8 percent of their passes against him and had an 88.5 passer rating. Newman, who turns 34 in September, did have four interceptions.
The Cowboys flirted with replacing Newman in free agency this summer by signing Nnamdi Asomugha, who landed in Philadelphia instead. They could have plenty of cornerbacks to choose from if they opt to shop in free agency this off-season.
Several top cornerbacks, including Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan, Baltimore's Lardarius Webb, San Francisco's Carlos Rogers, Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Atlanta's Brent Grimes are scheduled to become free agents in March. Terrell Thomas of the Giants also could hit the market, but he missed all of the 2011 season after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason game.
Grimes was the league's second-best cornerback this season, according to PFF, with Finnegan third and Webb fourth. Rogers was 11th and Carr 30th. Any one of them would be an upgrade for the Cowboys.
Grimes, who turns 29 this summer, is likely to re-sign with the Falcons, who have made him a priority. He allowed only 25 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns as quarterbacks completed only 44.6 percent of their passes against him.
Finnegan could hit the market. He made headlines during training camp when he briefly left the team. He had desired a contract extension before the 2011 season. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray moved Finnegan around, putting him inside on passing downs to cover the slot. Finnegan allowed only 52 catches for 456 yards and two scores. He turns 28 in February.
Rogers has expressed a desire to return to the 49ers, and Webb, two years removed from a torn ACL, will be a restricted free agent who likely will re-sign with the Ravens.
Carr, who turns 26 in May, could receive heavy interest if he hits the market.
-- Charean Williams