Former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne could’ve been mentioned in the same breath as Mel Renfro, Darren Woodson, Cliff Harris, Deion Sanders, and Everson Walls as the best defensive backs in the franchise’s storied history.
Instead, many fans and experts consider Claiborne one of the biggest letdowns to ever wear Cowboys navy blue, silver, and white.
Claiborne, a former Jim Thorpe Award winner, Unanimous All-American, and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, entered the National Football League with glowing credentials in 2012.
Sadly, Claiborne never met sky-high expectations. He spent five injury-riddled seasons in Dallas before trying to revive his once-promising gridiron career with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.
Claiborne won a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs following the 2019 NFL season before fading into oblivion. Had he remained healthy, he would have been a top-notch defensive back in the pro football ranks.
Morris Lee “Mo” Claiborne was born to parents Robert and Opal in Shreveport, LA on February 7, 1990.
Morris Claiborne attended Fair Park College Preparatory High School in his hometown of Shreveport, LA. He was a four-sport star who starred on the track, basketball court, baseball diamond, and gridiron for the Fair Park Indians.
The Shreveport Times named Claiborne the Shreveport-Bossier Male High School Athlete of the Year in his sophomore year in 2006.
Claiborne was a bona fide speed demon in high school. At the 2009 Louisiana Outdoor State Championships, he won two gold medals: one for winning the 100-meter dash with a personal-best 10.76 seconds and another for winning the 4 x 100 relay.
Claiborne played on both sides of the ball during his high school days on the gridiron. He played quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive back for Fair Park High.
Claiborne excelled as the Indians’ quarterback in his senior season in 2008. He had 30 total touchdowns and more than 2,000 all-purpose yards that year. He finished his high school gridiron career with three All-District selections at receiver and defensive back.
Fair Park's Morris Claiborne getting some love on the cover of the program. pic.twitter.com/RpEmi3qmRc
— Matt Vines (@MattRVines) September 22, 2013
Claiborne shook off a first-half shoulder injury and had 195 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the Indians’ heartbreaking 24-18 loss to Dak Prescott’s Haughton Buccaneers in the first round of their North Louisiana state playoffs in 2008.
It was one of the most painful losses in Mo Claiborne’s high school football career.
Claiborne and the Indians had a precarious one-point lead in the game’s waning moments. The Buccaneers’ quarterback threw a desperate Hail Mary pass on 4th-and-23 with just 35 seconds left.
To the Indians’ disbelief, the officials called one of their defensive backs for a pass interference call. Haughton moved the sticks and scored a decisive game-winning touchdown several possessions later.
Claiborne thought it was one of the most blatant blown calls he had ever seen on the high school gridiron.
“We definitely got hosed,” a dejected Claiborne told the Shreveport Times’ Roy Lang III in his fifth year with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys in 2016. “There wasn’t anyone close to the guy, and the ball was thrown at least 20 yards in front of him.”
Haughton Buccaneers head football coach Rodney Guin echoed Claiborne’s sentiments. He admitted to the Shreveport Times some eight years later that Claiborne would have beaten them almost single-handedly had the official not blown the controversial call.
Fair Park Indians head football coach Lent Bursey and Claiborne got in the official’s face, gave him a piece of their mind, and went berserk after the pass interference call.
The official promptly tossed Bursey and Claiborne from the game.
Nevertheless, Mo Claiborne exceeded expectations on both sides of the ball in high school. When he played college football for the LSU Tigers in the next phase of his gridiron journey, he ultimately made a name for himself as one of the premier defensive backs in the country.
College Days with the LSU Tigers
Morris Claiborne attended Louisiana Tech University from 2009 to 2011. He majored in general studies.
Claiborne, who played on both sides of the ball in his high school days, realized he was born to play defense when he reached the college football ranks.
“When I was younger, I was always a receiver,” Claiborne told four-time Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl defensive back Everson Walls in 2012 (via NewYorkJets.com’s Randy Lange). “I just feel that when the ball’s in the air, it’s as much or more mine as it’s the receiver’s.”
Claiborne got off to a slow start in his college football career. He played in seven games as a true freshman backing up right cornerback Patrick Peterson in 2009.
The Tigers won nine games in Les Miles’ fifth year at the helm. They lost to the 11th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2009 Capital One Bowl, 19-17.
Mo Claiborne’s career on the college gridiron picked up considerably in his sophomore campaign in 2010. He started twelve games at left cornerback and made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball.
Claiborne became the first LSU Tigers football player since LaRon Landry four years earlier to record consecutive games with an interception. Claiborne pulled off the feat against the Florida Gators and McNeese State Cowboys in October 2010.
Claiborne finished his sophomore season at LSU with 37 total tackles, five interceptions, three passes defensed, and one fumble recovery.
The Tigers won eleven of thirteen games in the 2010 NCAA season. They beat the Texas A&M Aggies in the 2010 Cotton Bowl, 41-24.
SEC Coaches and The Associated Press named Claiborne a Second-Team All-SEC selection following the 2010 NCAA campaign.
Morris Claiborne took his game to greater heights as a junior in 2011.
Claiborne recorded his two touchdowns in college during his junior year with the Tigers. He had a 99-yard touchdown on a kickoff return in a 47-21 rout of the West Virginia Mountaineers on September 24, 2011.
Claiborne struck again with an 89-yard pick-six against the Tennessee Volunteers just three weeks later. The Tigers won in lopsided fashion, 38-7.
Claiborne played at a high level all season long. He led all defensive backs with 173 interception return yards in 2011. His six interceptions helped LSU go undefeated in the regular season with an immaculate 13-0 win-loss record.
Alas, the Tigers lost to their former head football coach Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2011 BCS Championship, 21-0.
Nevertheless, Claiborne became a Unanimous All-American selection following the 2011 NCAA season. He also earned First-Team All-SEC honors and won the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year award and the Jim Thorpe Award.
Claiborne decided to forego his senior season and declare for the 2012 NFL Draft.
Morris Claiborne increased his stock dramatically during his junior season and became a much-ballyhooed pro football prospect in 2012. Regrettably, he never lived up to lofty expectations with the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Dallas Cowboys made Morris Claiborne the sixth overall selection of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys traded up eight spots with the St. Louis Rams to select Claiborne, the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. The Rams received the 14th and 45th overall selections in return.
Claiborne was Dallas’ highest draft selection in nine years. The Cowboys made eventual two-time Pro Bowl defensive back Terence Newman the fifth overall selection of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Claiborne was also the highest draft selection from the Shreveport, LA school system since the Pittsburgh Steelers made former Woodlawn Knights quarterback Terry Bradshaw the first overall selection of the 1970 NFL Draft, per Lange.
Mo Claiborne was stunned after the Cowboys drafted him. He told NFL.com that the team never reached out to him previously. Claiborne comes from a family of Cowboys fans. He was overcome with emotion and cried after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the Cowboys had drafted him.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 4, 2021
Claiborne made headlines for answering just four items correctly on the 50-item Wonderlic score, which measures a pro football player’s mental aptitude. He admitted he blew it off.
“I mean, I looked on the test and wasn’t nothing on the test that came with football, so I pretty much blew the test off,” Claiborne told The Sports Xchange in April 2012.
Claiborne also confessed he was hurt when people made fun of his Wonderlic test score. However, he didn’t let it bother him in the long run. He also felt his score wasn’t an accurate reflection of who he was as an individual.
For his part, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager told The Sports Xchange Claiborne’s mark was “not an issue at all.”
Shortly after the Cowboys drafted Claiborne, he settled into an apartment near Dallas’ old Valley Ranch practice facility in Irving, TX with his older brother, Brandon, per the Shreveport Times‘ Roy Lang III.
Brandon Claiborne acted as his younger brother’s bodyguard when the latter entered the National Football League in 2012.
“He wouldn’t let anything happen to me,” Mo Claiborne told Lang in February 2020. “We’d go out to stores and he was always with me. He was always clutching me, holding me, saying, ‘Ain’t nobody going to bother you.'”
When Mo became a member of the Dallas Cowboys organization, the Claiborne brothers dreamed about him winning a Super Bowl with his older sibling Brandon watching from the stands.
Mo Claiborne started fifteen games at cornerback for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett in the 2012 NFL season. He had one interception, eight passes defensed, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and one defensive touchdown as a rookie.
Dallas won eight games in 2012 and missed the postseason for the third straight year.
When The Dallas Morning News asked Claiborne to give himself a letter grade for his rookie season in the National Football League, he gave himself a C-minus.
As Claiborne’s second season in Dallas wound down, he welcomed his daughter Destiny and grieved the death of his father, Robert.
Claiborne gained six pounds of muscle in the summer of 2013. He relied on an intense weight-training regimen and a strict diet to help him stay in shape. Claiborne made a huge sacrifice by eliminating sweets from his diet that year.
“It’s been kind of hard,” Claiborne told The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota in the summer of 2013. “But I’m dedicated to it and I’m trying to make it work for not only myself but also for the team. I’ll take that punishment of not having those sweets so I can go out and play at a high level.”
Unfortunately, Morris Claiborne never got to prove his worth over the next two seasons. A combination of finger, knee, hamstring, and patellar tendon injuries limited him to just fourteen games from 2013 to 2014.
— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) October 28, 2015
The Cowboys averaged ten wins during that two-year time frame and finally ended their four-year postseason drought in 2014. Regrettably, Dallas lost to Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, 26-21.
Mo Claiborne put in the work and rehabbed his torn patellar tendon in the months following the 2014 NFL campaign. He progressed faster than expected and competed for one of Dallas’ starting cornerback spots against Orlando Scandrick, Byron Jones, and Brandon Carr.
Unfortunately for Carr, he tore his ACL and MCL during the preseason. Consequently, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett tapped Claiborne and Scandrick to start at cornerback for the 2015 NFL campaign.
Claiborne continued to struggle with injury issues during the season. A hamstring issue limited him to just eleven games in 2015. He had 37 combined tackles and seven passes defensed. Claiborne failed to record an interception for the first time in his four-year NFL career.
The Cowboys crashed and burned in the 2015 NFL campaign. They had an atrocious 4-12 win-loss record – their worst showing since 1989 when they won just one game all season long.
Despite Mo Claiborne’s injury woes, the Cowboys signed him to a one-year contract extension worth approximately $3 million on March 11, 2016. It was a welcome turn of events for Claiborne after Dallas previously turned down his rookie contract’s fifth-year option.
Claiborne’s fifth year in Dallas coincided with his high school football tormentor Dak Prescott’s rookie season with the Cowboys in 2016.
Prescott’s Haughton Buccaneers beat Claibornecontroversiallycontroversial fashion in a first-round postseason game eight years earlier. It was a game marred by a pass interference call in the game’s final 35 seconds.
Claiborne never let Prescott forget about that game. Although the two were already teammates, Claiborne did not allow painful memories of that controversial game to slide.
Claiborne walked by Prescott’s locker occasionally, told him, “Y’all cheated,” and walked away afterward.
Top 5 plays of the 2016 #Cowboys season (so far)
Number 5: Morris Claiborne interception vs. the 49ers. pic.twitter.com/lIUI5ajp8T
— Dem Boyz Nation (@DemBoyzNation) October 28, 2016
To Claiborne’s dismay, his injury woes continued in the 2016 NFL season. A concussion and injuries to his groin limited him to just seven games in the regular season.
When Claiborne returned to action against the Green Bay Packers in the 2016 NFC Divisional Round after a nine-week absence, a rib injury hampered his production.
Although the Cowboys won an impressive thirteen games in the regular season, the Packers tormented them for the second time in the past three postseasons, 34-31.
It turned out Morris Claiborne had played his final down in Cowboys navy blue, silver, and white.
Claiborne suited up in just 47 out of a possible 80 games for Dallas from 2012 to 2016. He had just four interceptions during that five-season stretch. It was a far cry from his 11-interception production in his last two years with the LSU Tigers from 2010 to 2011.
Consequently, Dallas let him walk away in free agency after the 2016 NFL season. The New York Jets promptly signed him to a one-year deal on March 18, 2017.
Things got better for Claiborne some four months later. He became a father to twin daughters Ma’Kaila and Ma’Liah in the summer of 2017.
Claiborne received a call from his mobile phone about the twins’ birth while he was on the Jets’ practice field. He took the phone from a Jets trainer, talked to the other party, and bade Jets coach Todd Bowles and his teammates goodbye.
Claiborne’s then-girlfriend Jennifer gave birth to their twins within an hour of his arrival at the hospital. Bowles gave Claiborne some leeway in terms of shuttling back and forth to the team hotel. Claiborne checked on his family at the hospital after team meetings, returned to the hotel in time for curfew, and communicated with his family via FaceTime after checking back in.
Claiborne welcomed his son, Morris, during his freshman year at LSU in 2009. He welcomed his first daughter, Madicyn, six years later. Claiborne married Jennifer eight months after the birth of their twins, a life-changing event that broadened his perspective.
“It gave me a sense of what I’m really playing football for, what I’m really doing it for,” Claiborne told The Associated Press‘ Dennis Waszak, Jr. (via the Shreveport Times). “It opened my eyes to a much bigger picture.”
An inspired Mo Claiborne played well enough to warrant a one-year contract extension from the Jets in the spring of 2018.
Claiborne enjoyed his healthiest years on the NFL gridiron with Gang Green, suiting up in 30 games for head coach Todd Bowles from 2017 to 2018. He had100 combined tackles, three interceptions, and one-pick six during those two years.
The New York Jets cut veterans CB Morris Claiborne and WR Quincy Enunwa who both saw a steady decline in playing time as the season have past. We would like to thank them for their service in green and white and would like to wish them luck in the future. @GridMbl pic.twitter.com/eRNHqGvKQH
— The Grid NY Jets (@NYJets_Grid) February 28, 2018
Despite a clean bill of health, Mo Claiborne endured two years of bad football in the Big Apple. The Jets averaged barely five wins per season in Bowles’ last two years with the franchise. Consequently, they extended their postseason drought to eight years.
Claiborne received a new lease of life from the Kansas City Chiefs. They signed him to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million in the summer of 2019.
Before signing Claiborne, the Chiefs were aware of his four-game suspension entering the 2019 NFL campaign for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Kansas City’s acquisition of Clairborne reunited him with his LSU Tigers teammate from 2010 to 2011, safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Claiborne suited up in eight games for the Chiefs in the 2019 NFL season and recorded 14 combined tackles. It was the second time in his eight-year pro football career he failed to record a single interception.
Despite Mo Claiborne’s on-field struggles, his teammates promptly picked up the slack. Behind the exploits of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, defensive end Frank Clark, and safety Tyrann Mathieu, the Chiefs went 12-4 in 2019.
Mo Claiborne had a chance to fulfill his and his brother Brandon’s dream of winning a Super Bowl when his Kansas City Chiefs squared off against the San Francisco 49ers in the game’s 54th edition in February 2020.
Sadly, Brandon Claiborne passed away less than a month before the kickoff of Super Bowl LIV. He succumbed to a fatal heart attack on January 5, 2020. He was just 31 years old.
“It’s hard,” Mo Claiborne told Lang a month-and-a-half later. “It was a big blow for our family.”
— Tim Owens (@TimOwensTV) January 29, 2020
Mo Claiborne earned his first and only Super Bowl ring after the Chiefs beat the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, 31-20. It was Kansas City’s second Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs didn’t re-sign Morris Claiborne after their historic Super Bowl-winning season. He hasn’t played in the National Football League since 2019.
Morris Claiborne and his family currently reside in the Dallas, TX area.
Not much is known about Claiborne after he last played in the 2019 NFL season.