Claiborne: How Long 'Til He 'Makes History'?
It's such a simple statement ... and such an other-wordly goal.
"I want to make history," Morris Claiborne tells CowboysHQ in a 1-on-1 visit ... and maybe his ability to say such a thing marks the beginning of his rebuilding of confidence.
The Dallas Cowboys hopeful star talked with us about his goals for the upcoming season -- something crystalized for him when we relayed to him that running mate Brandon Carr had told us Claiborne has the physical ability to be an elite corner.
"That means a lot coming from him,'' Claiborne said. "In my heart I know the player I can be and the player I want to be. He's right. As long as I stay positive and keep grinding, no one can stop me from what I'm trying to do."
Frankly, injuries can slow the sixth pick in the 2012 Draft from LSU. In part because of his injuries, Claiborne started just seven games in 2013, finishing with 26 tackles, five passes defended, an interception and a fumble recovery. Claiborne says he is physically stronger now than ever before -- and head coach Jason Garrett agrees.
But a lack of confidence in the system can slow Mo, too. Claiborne tells us that in his conversations with defensive boss Rod Marinelli, they've discussed an increase in press coverage befitting Mo's favorite style.
All of this is part of a learning curve -- as frustrating as it is for Cowboys fans and for Mo, too.
So how long is it supposed to take for Mo Claiborne to be a star?
He told us in his rookie training camp that he understands that Dallas -- which ranked him as the top defensive player in that year's draft -- wants him to "come in and play right away" and "be a shutdown corner."
But alas, that's not the way the NFL works.
Can we be specific about the historical learning curve for a cornerback to move from "talent'' to "starter'' to "reputed success" to true "star''? Yes.
Let's use standard NFL honors as the measuring stick: A first Pro Bowl appearance... and then, for the rare player who is an all-time great, the NFL's official All-Decade Teams.
A dozen cornerbacks have earned All-Decade honors for the decades of the '80's, '90's and 2000's. As recognizable as these names are -- and as brilliant as their talent was -- you might be surprised to learn how long it took them to achieve Pro Bowl-level "stardom":
All-NFL Team of The 80's CBs
MIKE HAYNES -- A first-round pick in 1976, the Raiders corner intercepted eight passes to earn All-Rookie honors. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls including a berth as a rookie. So it took him his one NFL season to get recognition.
MEL BLOUNT -- He was an All-Pro selection four times. But his first Pro Bowl didn't come until '75... and he was drafted in '70. Blount sat the bench for almost three years before emerging as a Steelers standout... so it took him six seasons to make the Pro Bowl.
FRANK MINNIFIELD -- He was on the All-Rookie team and later won first-team All-Pro honors from 1987-89. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection for the Browns, but his first Pro Bowl didn't come until '86... meaning he had to wait three years.
LESTER HAYES -- He entered the league in 1977 and was a first- or second-team All-Pro choice five times. But the Pro Bowl? He didn't make it until 1980... a four-year wait.
All-NFL Team of The 90's CBs
DEION SANDERS -- He entered the league in '89 and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and is considered the best "cover corner" of all-time. But the Falcons draftee (and then NFL champ with the 49ers and Cowboys) didn't make his first Pro Bowl until '91 -- a three-year wait.
ROD WOODSON -- Another all-timer, named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1993. Woodson earned 11 career Pro Bowl nods after coming into the league in '87... and then waiting until '89 for his first Pro Bowl. A three-year wait.
DARRELL GREEN -- The Redskins great entered the NFL in '83 and made the Pro Bowl in '84 after year two.
AENEAS WILLIAMS -- The Cardinals standout -- according to Troy Aikman second only to Deion as the best CB he ever opposed -- came into the league in '91 and earned first-team All-Pro honors four times. But not until '94 was he a Pro Bowler -- a wait of four years.
All-NFL Team of The 90's CBs
CHAMP BAILEY -- He was drafted by the Redskins in 1999 and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2000. A two-year wait.
CHARLES WOODSON -- He was drafted by the Raiders in 1998, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for Green Bay a decade later, but was recognized immediately as a stud, making the Pro Bowl after his first season.
RONDE BARBER -- A five-time Pro Bowler for the Bucs, he was drafted in '97 and finally made the Pro Bowl in 2001 -- a five-year wait.
TY LAW -- Drafted in 1996, he qualified for the Pro Bowl in '98. A three-year wait.
Add it up. Those 12 guys -- the greatest cornerbacks of three eras -- needed on average three full seasons before becoming Pro Bowlers. Haynes and Woodson made it after one year, so it's possible to earn recognition right away. But six years for Blount? Four years for Hayes? Three years for Deion?
This is why you wait on Mo Claiborne. His base salary this year is $1,868,591; if he performs at just "starter'' level he's a bargain. Next year his base in the final season of his rookie contract is just $2,567,182; again, $2.5-mil cornerbacks aren't expected to be Haynes or Woodson or Deion.
So there is financial reason for patience. There is a talent level that demands patience, too.
Claiborne can still "make history." But doing so at cornerback takes time.
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