FRISCO, Texas – With attention moving toward the 2023 NFL Draft, now three full weeks removed from the March 15 start to free agency, we can say this about the Dallas Cowboys:
They have purified the draft.
That's right. That is exactly what the Cowboys already have accomplished so far this offseason as they began bringing in players for their 30 draft prospect visits this week out here at The Star.
Sort of like putting putty into obvious roster cracks and, of course, with those two trades, more like sealing a few obvious needs with grout.
Had a hole at wide receiver? Traded for Brandin Cooks.
Had a hole at cornerback? Traded for Stephon Gilmore.
Had an overage on their salary cap? Restructured the contracts of veterans Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, Michael Gallup, Tyron Smith and newcomer Cooks to create necessary space to pay for a couple of those trades, re-sign their own and have enough operating capital to fund their draft, rookie free agent signings, fund a full practice squad for 18 weeks and have enough left over to cover an impending injured reserve, injury settlements and potentially signing players heading into their fourth seasons to extensions.
Had holes at safety and linebacker? Re-signed Donovan Wilson and linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Takk McKinley.
Needed to cover themselves at running back after deciding to make Ezekiel Elliott a June 1 release? Signed veteran free agent Ronald Jones after having franchised Tony Pollard.
Wanted to amplify the pass rush of last season? Re-signed Dante Fowler?
Knew they needed to plug the backup quarterback hole? Re-signed Cooper Rush.
Wanting to cover themselves on the interior of the offensive line after losing Connor McGovern to free agency? Brought in veteran Chuma Edoga.
Knew they wanted bigger bodies in the middle of the defensive line? Re-signed defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
And in the process of having accomplished all this, the Cowboys absolutely purified their draft, eliminating the possibility of having to reach for any possible position of desperate need in any round of the NFL Draft starting on April 27. Not at wide receiver. Not at cornerback. Not at running back. Not on the offensive line. Not at defensive tackle or linebacker or safety.
And most importantly, not in the first round. Now should not be in one of those "got-to-have" situations. Sometimes when you are, you end up with reaching out of desperation for a Shante Carver or Taco Charlton.
Said COO Stephen Jones at last week's NFL Owners Meetings, "Part of the reason I think we've been confident in our (draft) system is we are able to take care of our needs before we ever get to the draft. We feel like we've done a really good job of that."
And they have over these past three or four weeks, allowing the draft to come to them. Bang up job if we're allowed to praise the Cowboys thus far in the offseason.
- Pass Pro: Glad to hear head coach Mike McCarthy at the meetings talk about improving pass protection. As talented as we might think the Cowboys offensive line was last year, Prescott was sacked 20 times in just 12 regular-season games and on a career low 394 attempts when playing more than five games (2020). That's a sack nearly every 20 attempts. And that doesn't even take into account the times pressured, which no one seems to factor into those 15 interceptions. In fact, in one analytical stat, the Cowboys ranked 28th in pass-block win rate.
- According To Deion: Maybe Three Dog Night didn't get it right when claiming in the song, "One Is The Loneliest Number." Because according to Deion Sanders, it's 0, lashing out at any player on his Colorado team wanting the jersey numeral 0. The new Buffaloes head coach told his players, "You're not wearing zero. That would never happen because that means you're nothing. I don't understand who wants a zero. I don't understand why you want to be a nothing. I don't get it." Knowing Deion, he'd rather be No. 1.
- Big Man: The Cowboys must thank their lucky stars they were able to re-sign free agent defensive tackle Hankins to a one-year deal. That is a big deal to bulk up the middle of their defense, especially since the Cowboys need to greatly improve their run defense. In five games after trading for the 10-year vet, Hankins accumulated 12 tackles, which factors into a 40-tackle season. That would have ranked Hankins in 2022 tied for second among the Cowboys defensive linemen, behind just Lawrence (61) and tied with Osa Odighizuwa.
- Come A Long Way Baby: In deference to those old Virginia Slims commercials, women's college basketball has come a long way for sure. Tried to buy a walk-up ticket to the NCAA Womens Basketball Championship Game Sunday at the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas. With the ticket office sold out, and not only scalp tickets, but those left on online ticket sites, they were going for $500. Gosh, I can remember while in college the NCAA didn't even sanction basketball for women. Starting in 1971, college teams played under the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). Why, nearly10 years after the installation of Title IX did the NCAA sanction a women's national championship tournament in 1982.
- Clark (High) Bar: Further evidence of the evolution of women's basketball arrives in the form of Iowa's Caitlin Clark, who by all rights should have been selected as the best player, men or women, in the Final Fours. What an exhibition of shooting, playmaking and just all-around basketball acumen, scoring 41, 41 and 30 points in the Hawkeyes final three tournament games, though losing the title game to LSU. During the entire tournament, Clark hit 25 three-pointers, including the one with her foot on the edge of the center-court logo, a record for men or women.
- Short Shots: Though not a player favorite, the NFL is demanding the use of those Guardian Caps worn over helmets by offensive and defensive linemen, along with linebackers, not only for training camp practices like this past summer in order to cut down on concussions, but for all contact practices during the season … The Cowboys took a closer look during this week's 30 visits at 6-3, 212-pound TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnson, even though he could be one of the first wide receivers off the board … And congrats to Greg Aiello, former Cowboys longtime media relations man, first as an assistant starting in 1979 and then director in 1989, before moving on to the NFL office in 1990, rising to senior VP of communications, having been named one of 17 recipients receiving this year's NFL's Award of Excellence given out by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And for this week's final word, let's go back to the NFL Owners Meetings when McCarthy was asked why he thinks no NFL coach has been able to win a Super Bowl with two different teams, which he is trying to do with the Cowboys after winning a Super Bowl in Green Bay. Now, Mike Holmgren came close, winning one in Green Bay and taking Seattle at least to another, this sort of in reference to himself and now Sean Payton leaving New Orleans where he won a Super Bowl to now taking over the Broncos with high expectations.
"It's hard, it's hard," McCarthy said of simply winning one Super Bowl. "When you win one, you definitely had a culture and a process and your program puts you in position to win that first one, and I definitely had that in my last experience. But to create that in another place it takes time, it's difficult, so I can see clearly why it's never been done."
Though he too understands the increased expectations for sure.