Phillips: 5 Takeaways From Cowboys' Offseason Roster Reconstruction

FRISCO, Texas – As Stephen Jones always says, player acquisition is a 365-day-a-year process.

The Cowboys aren't finished with their roster. More moves, though relatively minor, are sure to be made between now and training camp, including the official signing of undrafted free agents before next weekend's rookie minicamp.

But the heavy lifting's done with the NFL Draft complete. The Cowboys have addressed more than a dozen free-agent departures in addition to Doug Free's retirement and Tony Romo's granted release to pursue a broadcasting career with CBS.

Here are five takeaways from the Cowboys' offseason roster overhaul – what we've learned about their approach toward personnel and which particular philosophies they've reinforced:

The chances of drafting a "war daddy" pass rusher are better on Day 1 than Day 2 or 3.

As senior director of college/pro personnel Will McClay pointed out Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan, scheme fit factored into the Cowboys' decision to draft Taco Charlton at No. 28 rather than settle for a pass rusher in the second round (or later) who didn't quite match their defensive principles.

There's a matter of upside, too.

Sure, critics who wanted a cornerback at 28 can argue Charlton had one whole season of high production at Michigan. A more pragmatic view, though, is Charlton finally got to start and play his natural position as a senior and responded with 9.5 sacks.

That 4-3, pure pass rushing role is exactly what the Cowboys envision for him.

No one's saying Charlton will step on The Star campus as the best defensive end the Cowboys have had since DeMarcus Ware. That's unfair. The Cowboys do think he's only scratching the surface of his potential.

Their safeties coach, Greg Jackson, was on Michigan's defensive staff during Charlton's sophomore season and saw the young man accept tough coaching to get better. Now he has another terrific teacher and tactician in Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. His position coach, Leon Lett, also knows a thing or two about how to be productive as a 6-6 defensive lineman.

The Cowboys want more Byron Joneses in the secondary.

Jones' skill set – athletic and versatile, able to play at least two positions – is critical against evolving offenses that now deploy tight ends who are just as explosive as wide receivers. Position flex is so important as a solution for injuries, too.

Three of the four defensive backs drafted by Dallas can play multiple spots.

Second-round pick Chidobe Auwize played outside corner, inside corner, safety and outside linebacker at Colorado.

Third-round pick Jourdan Lewis played outside and inside corner at Michigan.

Sixth-round pick Xavier Woods played center field and down in the box at safety for Louisiana Tech.

The secondary just got a lot younger, but with time it might be more dynamic.

The Cowboys appear comfortable with their options at right tackle.

Replacing Free is no easy task. He battled injuries off and on during his final years with the team, but when healthy he gave the offensive line a steady veteran presence on the right side.

The Cowboys didn't spend a draft pick on what was generally considered a weak class for tackles. That's probably why they covered themselves in March by signing five-year veteran Byron Bell as a starting candidate.

2015 third-round pick Chaz Green has also shown the ability to play in this league when healthy. It's just a matter of staying on the field.

Head coach Jason Garrett said in March that they plan to give La'el Collins a chance to play guard first. Perhaps his college tackle experience makes him an option to move outside at some point.

Big-time players at big-time programs have draft value.

McClay on Tuesday sort of bristled at the notion that he's a "Power 5 Guy" who only wants prospects from big programs. He wants good football players wherever he and the Cowboys' front office can find them.

To his point, the Cowboys in 2015 signed England native Efe Obada, who had no college football experience. Last year they spent a sixth-round pick on Rico Gathers, who hadn't picked up a football competitively since the eighth grade.

However, the Cowboys undoubtedly value players who succeeded against elite college competition. Ezekiel Elliott won a national title at Ohio State; Dak Prescott dominated at quarterback at Mississippi State in the nation's toughest conference.

Charlton's final two games at Michigan: a combined 14 tackles (5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks against fellow powerhouses Ohio State and Florida State.

Of the Cowboys' nine 2017 draft picks, only Woods hails from a non-Power-5 conference. But the club did consider him as early as the fourth round. If you can play, you can play. If you played against the nation's best, that only helps the evaluation.

The Cowboys didn't forget about Dak.

As good as Prescott was last season – you can argue no quarterback in NFL history had a better rookie year – the Cowboys still made an effort to find offensive skill players around their 23-year-old starter.

Ryan Switzer is an efficient slot receiver with a fierce competitive streak, and Noah Brown flashed potential in a small role at Ohio State. Switzer's primary role is likely as a returner, and Brown has a lot of competition in front him as a seventh-round pick, but these are two young prospects who could develop into reliable passing targets for Prescott over the next several years.

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