IRVING, Texas – It's one of the most well-documented aspects of the Cowboys' rise to success – the unprecedented emphasis on the offensive line.
The Cowboys have spent three of their past four first-round picks – No. 9 overall, No. 31 overall and No. 16 overall – on offensive linemen. They've been rewarded with four combined Pro Bowl nods between Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in the past two seasons.
After all of that, don't be surprised if they do it again on April 30. With uncertainty surrounding the futures of Doug Free and Jermey Parnell, it was reasonable to ask Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones if it was reasonable to draft an offensive lineman 27th in this year's draft.
"It certainly is," he said.
It's not the most obvious need on the Cowboys' roster, given the lack of proven pass rushers and cornerbacks. It's hard to argue with the logic, though, given the credentials of their Pro Bowl trio. If the Cowboys lose one or both of their veteran tackles, they could further solidify the youth movement on their offensive front.
"You just wouldn't have thought that we would have drafted an offensive lineman last year after your last two first picks, but it was obvious that he was the best player there for us," Jones said.
That's not to say it'll come to that. Free has started 82 games for Dallas since he was drafted in 2007, while Parnell proved capable in seven starts last fall. It's a safe bet that the Cowboys will negotiate with both when free agency opens March 10.
"Exactly, and of course we're working with their representatives," Jones said.
Given the needs at other positions, it'd be fair to wonder why the Cowboys wouldn't just trade out of the No. 27 pick. It's a similar situation to the one they faced last spring, when they wound up selecting Martin 16th overall.
"You could have said, 'Why didn't you trade down?' First of all, we didn't think we have the opportunity to trade down," Jones said. "It was just the age-old deal, he was just better than anything we thought we could have gotten or any gain we could have gotten."
It's tough to predict how the first round will unfold, especially considering the Cowboys won't pick until the tail end. It's safe to say that scenario could once again play out this year, where a talented tackle could well be the best situation available.