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Draft Central | 2024

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Mick Shots: Must understand Cowboys positions


FRISCO, Texas – Always good to get confirmation.

Back on March 29, this was the headline on my Friday Column:

"Needing Cowboys Youth To Assemble in 2024"

Went on to write: Welcome to The Star, the Land of Opportunity where the youth will be counted on to grow, where the injured can revitalize their careers and where the aging might just turn back the clock.

Pointed out two weeks after the start of free agency, judging from the Cowboys' inactivity and lack of salary-cap funds, that you had better get to know these names. Because if the Cowboys are to plug the many holes heading toward 2024 with now at least 11 players, starters or significant rotation players, no longer on this 12-5 team from 2023, they will need the likes of these young players.

Guys such as Brock Hoffman, T.J. Bass, Matt Waletzko, Josh Ball and Asim Richards on the offensive line. Then running backs such as Rico Dowdle, Malik Davis, Deuce Vaughn, Snoop Connor and Hunter Luepke, not a soul on the current roster with more than Dowdle's 96 NFL career carries. Dudes at receiver needing to battle for the third, fourth and fifth spots like Jalen Tolbert, Jalen Brooks, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Cropper, David Durden and Martavis Bryant.

Then defensive linemen youngin's such as Sam Williams, Mazi Smith (especially), Junior Fehoko and Chauncey Golston, and same at cornerback with Eric Scott, Nahshon Wright, Israel Mukuamu, along with safeties Markquese Bell and Juanyeh Thomas. And the injury returns from Trevon Diggs and DeMarvion Overshown from their torn ACLs must be hits.

Well, on Tuesday afternoon, here is what head coach Mike McCarthy had to emphasize during the annual pre-draft presser:

"The biggest gains for this team will come from these young players."

Thanks Mike, for confirmation on my hypothesis.

Then this from Stephen Jones.

"You want those young guys coming," he began and going on to mention previous draft choices Ball, Richards and Waletzko, along with those undrafted free agent signings of Bass and Hoffman. "It's time for them to step up."

Then this from Jerry Jones, and sure is imperative for this to take place, "No names will become names. "You cannot play and run a team in the NFL without counting on this dynamic."

Sure, the Cowboys are counting on their draft over the next three days to supplement this roster. But that is an unknown, especially when you only have the 24th slot in the first round and seven total picks – as of today. Like, let's not count on your first three picks starting on Day One.

As Jerry points out, this all is "ambiguous."

Sure is, but the Cowboys need to find out, need some affirmation.

Can Bass start for you at left guard?

Can Hoffman start for you at center?

Will Tolbert improve enough to be a top-three wide receiver?

Can Dowdle turn into a lead back?

Can Overshown turn into a top-three linebacker?

And maybe most of all, can Smith, a guy they spent last year's 26th pick in the first round on, become a player in the NFL at defensive tackle, almost a necessity at this point considering the draft capital and first-round cap money already spent on him?

Lots to fill.

"I think it's a great opportunity for these young people," Stephen says.

Well, it's knocking.

  • Trader Jerry: Since taking ownership in 1989, Jerry Jones has authorized 71 draft-day trades, and only 12 times in the past 35 drafts under his jurisdiction has he failed to make a first-round trade of some sort. So, you ask, will the Cowboys trade down from the 24th pick in the first round? My answer, unless some Micah Parsons or CeeDee Lamb or Dez Bryant unsuspectedly falls into their lap on Thursday or they can't find a dance partner for a reasonable price, you had better hope so. With all their needs, the depth of first-round offensive linemen and the chances of a talented defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, or even wide receiver lasting past the 24th pick, why not? Plus, they need more draft capital, to either draft more players or possibly use to move up for a specific player on the second day. "Well, I'll say this," Jerry began, "it's very likely to have an opportunity to do that given the right people left on the board or the wrong people gone off the board, and the right trade, and what time of day it is – and if I'm in the room (OK, joking). Obviously, we'd like to have some middle-round picks." You betcha. Because I'm betting when the Cowboys get to 24, there still will be at least five players they wouldn't mind having. Putting my two cents on a trade down, but only two now.
  • Telling You Why: Neil Young was right when he penned "Tell Me Why" because sometimes it is indeed "hard to make arrangements." Like trying to get a CeeDee Lamb signed to an extension. And it's not because the Cowboys don't want to. There are exterior factors getting in the way. Like Lamb's agent and that of wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who also is staring at a fifth-year option and in need of a Vikings extension, belonging to the same CAA Sports Agency. Neither agent wants to make the first move, wanting to know what the other guy is getting first. And look, Detroit wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown just signed a four-year extension for $120 million, averaging from 2025-28 $30 million with a wide receiver high $77 million guaranteed. And his three-year stats can't touch those of CeeDee. So the negotiations now start at $30 million a year and probably probing for $40 million. Takes two to tango, and as Stephen points out, "I can assure you if we felt like we could get a number that was a good number (they'd do the deal). Because unfortunately, as we all know, these representatives talk to each other. You don't think the representatives of Jefferson and CeeDee, [Ja'Marr] Chase, aren't talking? And you don't think they got their eye on something big? Please. They aren't ready to come in here. Same thing with Micah, same thing with Dak [Prescott]. It's a little cat and mouse." May I amend, to really big cats and mice.
  • Words To Train By: "The more you sweat in the offseason, the less you bleed in the season." Mike McCarthy, April 23, 2024.
  • No Big Deal: That Lamb is not here working out with the team these first two weeks of the offseason's Phase I is no big deal at this point. Chances are Lamb is working out on his own, and the team can send him a workout regimen to follow. Plus, remember, Dak does have a backyard. The biggest downside is on Lamb because if he injures himself, he can be placed on the Non-Football Injury list when it's time to report. And if it's a serious one, the team is not liable for his contract.
  • Injury Outlook: Now, the Cowboys will have a handful of players not participating in the OTAs when they begin the week of May 20, likely continuing to rehabilitate from surgeries either performed during or after the season. Guys such as Diggs, John Stephens, Durden, Smith and Peyton Hendershot. But projections for the start of training camp seem positive, and if nothing else, at least to start on PUP for further strength and conditioning at the outset.
  • Draft Bites: When it came to answering questions about potentially selecting a tackle or a center, and how that decision relates to the ability of Tyler Smith to play left tackle or guard, obviously the Cowboy weren't going to unveil their preference, so McCarthy said, "I think the biggest thing is you've got to take the best player … which player makes our offensive line better … just stay true to our board." ... Then there is Jerry, with many wondering just why the Cowboys have Prescott playing on the final year of his contract, saying, "We want Dak Prescott," but probably not for $60 million a year … Just for clarity, if you haven't been paying attention, with all the cap-restructure money the Cowboys have stuffed into Dak's voided years, he'd cost right at $40 million in dead money if he's not on this team in 2025 … And this last draft fact: Since over the franchise's 63 drafts, not counting the 1960 expansion draft, the Cowboys only seven times have used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman, four of those in the past 13 years starting with Tyron Smith in 2011, Travis Frederick in 2013, Zack Martin in 2014 and Tyler Smith in 2022.
  • And the Pick: If the Cowboys can swing a trade down, sort of the way they did in 2013 to grab the center Frederick at 31, and pick up a third for their troubles (wide receiver Terrence Williams in that draft), then I'm trying for a double: West Virginia center Zach Frazier. After all, what position of need is more important than a legitimate center whose hand will be on the ball like 60 times a game and must keep up the gut clean for Dak while still being an agile, strong two-level run blocker.

And for this NFL Draft week final word we return to Jerry Jones. And this will be words for sure, Jerry answering a question about the inactivity in free agency and what would you tell the fans about that? And for dragging your feet knowing at some point they need to potentially sign Prescott to an extension, Lamb to a more favorable salary than his $17.99 million fifth-year option he's under for this year and now having to account for picking up Parson's fifth-year option for 2025 ($21.34 million) and even possibly making room for a potential franchise tag or signing him to an extension by 2026?

"You do understand when you have been operating on a credit card, and there is no question we've been operating on a credit card," Jerry began. "That's how we've had Dak Prescott plus this great supporting cast around him for the last three or four years. You can't keep that if in fact all of a sudden the system causes that to go up and you've got to start depreciating down. So if you decide to have a key player and you pay him to that extent then he's going to have less supporting cast around him. Look around, that's the way it works, that's the way it's been working in the NFL.

"The sin would be to wake up after a Green Bay and say, 'Oh my goodness, what have we got here?' Our fans may not have been attuned to this, and even some of you in this room to some degree might not have been attuned to it. Boy, we've been attuned to it. And so we have known that you were going to basically have to have less. In order to have some of the players that we want to have at the prices they're at, (then) you've got to have less supporting cast. There is no getting around it.

"Where does it come from? It comes from really the draft, young players, it comes from play-in players. That puts a big load on this guy's shoulder (McCarthy) over here. It comes from not the highest-priced free agents – that's where it comes from. But when you are in that spot, your sins catch up with you at that time. So guys you hit on show up, and the guys that you paid that didn't hit on show up. By the same token, sometimes great things happen to you. You get a Micah Parsons. Well, Micah Parsons is going to take some cap to have Micah. And so does CeeDee.

"All of that, I wouldn't trade getting to do this for any … job .. in … the … world … and getting to be sitting here explaining to you what we're doing."

Then Jerry, holding out his right hand and pinching his thumb near to his next to fingers, says, "So this isn't the world's smallest violin sitting up here, complaining or talking for our fans. I just want to try to be good enough to work through this, and let's have a winning season, which we've got a chance to have."

Got all that?

Yep, got it.

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