Offseason | 2021

Spagnola: An Upcoming NFL Draft Like No Other

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FRISCO, Texas – Before we get into today's discussion, let's first address the 12,000-pound grown elephant in the room.

The Cowboys being linked to one of four teams Russell Wilson's agent says his client would be willing to accept a trade to if the Seattle Seahawks were inclined to do so even though he's not demanding one. Certainly an indication of the perceived offensive firepower the Cowboys must have with the O-Line gang back together again for 2021 if indeed they've made Russ's top-4 landing destinations.

Keep listening to the multiplying discussions about this item, which gains full steam with the mere mention of the Cowboys, as usual. Keep reading the analysis. But so far, only once have I heard or read the Seahawks' pole vault-high bar to pulling off such a trade of their franchise quarterback. And this has nothing to do with what certainly would be a Herschel Walker-high compensation package,

Nope, it's this: Trading Russell Wilson before June 1 means the four-year, $140 million extension he signed in 2019 on top of the two years of an existing contract still remaining – meaning six years, $158 million, or an average of $26.333 million a year – would stuff $39 million of dead money into the Seahawks' 2021 salary cap.

Would seem to be a prohibitive deal breaker, no?

To bankrupt a cap with currently $11.1 million available space on a potential $185 million sum would seem untenable. Plain dumb, too.

Just FYI.

Now then, on to the 2021 NFL Draft, now just 62 days away (April 29), with college Pro Day workouts scheduled for March 5 through April 9 and the Cowboys sitting at No. 10 in the first round, owning three of the top 75 picks those first two days.

The mocking already is in full swing, 1.0. 2.0, many nearing 3.0, with top-50 boards going up faster than drywall replacing those ruined in these parts by freeze-busted pipes.

You know, all those produced by the growing cottage industry of experts out there.

Now, we know these drafts are never exactly a scientific exercise by even those in the NFL paid to make these choices. But this year's draft, still with COVID affects hovering overhead thicker than Mississippi kudzu, might become the biggest crapshoot the NFL has ever known.

Think about the existing scouting and evaluation limitations. First, no NFL Scouting Combine, the downside not so much the loss of in-person workout observations but the inability to conduct in-person interviews. The college Pro Day workouts soon to begin are replacing those previously conducted at the combine.

But no combine also means no extensive physicals administered by NFL team medical personnel. How much you trusting tele-physicals? And what if agents deny further exams for their clients coming off, say, season-ending injuries.

These combine preparation sites, like Michael Johnson Performance here locally, will provide workout days for their draft-eligible athletes, but the downside I hear becomes the NFL prohibiting team personnel from attending these events under the league's continued abundance of COVID-19 precaution.

Then there is this, too: Remember the NCAA granting players an extra year of eligibility after the COVID-interrupted, and in some cases shortened or aborted, seasons? Those players returning for another year wipes out a large field of what would have been draftable players, especially those slated for the middle-rounds.

Or this: How accurate will evaluations be on those players who opted-out of their 2020 seasons, especially the junior outs teams likely will have no more than one or two seasons of evaluations to rely on? Or those evaluations on players from the Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences limited by significantly shortened seasons?

Another concern has to be the effects on players having taken off an entire season.

Let me give you a few examples, two cornerbacks consistently mocked to the Cowboys, Alabama's Patrick Surtain II and Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley, reasonable selections for the Cowboys at No. 10 since the team must repair the position either by re-signing its own unrestricted free agents (Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis), dabbling in free agency and/or then in the draft.

Farley, a red-shirt sophomore has played just two seasons at Tech, a torn ACL in 2017 costing him his freshman season. He opted out in 2020. How much you trusting his two years of tape vs. Surtain playing three full seasons at Alabama, winning a national championship this past season and playing in the title game as a freshman?

Then there is this guy, Penn State's Micah Parsons, a super-talented linebacker being mocked as high as seventh and usually no lower than 15th, and no reason why he shouldn't be on the Cowboys' radar. Not like they have a plethora of linebackers on hand. But he's another opt-out guy, having played just two seasons for the Nittany Lions, though at a high level. Parsons was an All-American as a sophomore and actually won Cotton Bowl Most Outstanding Defensive Player honors with 14 tackles, two sacks and a forced interception in Penn State's 53-39 victory over Memphis.

Bet you could watch Penn State game tape and pick out Parsons (6-3, 245 and can run) without even knowing his number, and have seen him being compared to the likes of Rolando McClain and K.J. Wright.

And NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah had this evaluation of Parsons: "We've seen some outstanding off-ball linebackers in the last few draft classes. Last year's group featured three first-rounders (Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen and Jordyn Brooks). Obviously, this is based on a limited exposure to Parsons, but as of right now, I have him graded above all three of those players."

But again, two years of evaluation, having not played this past season and limited in-person contact with a guy who had a couple of on-team scuffles as a freshman.

You know, with many of these mocks projecting four to even five quarterbacks being selected in the top 10, along with the potential of one or two offensive tackles, as many as two to three wide receivers and a tight end, there is a mighty good chance at No. 10 the Cowboys will have a highly-talented defensive player at a need position available. Or with teams so quarterback-needy, and one starts to fall, the value of trading back a few spots with highly skilled defensive players still on the board might be sky high.

All this is another reason for scoffing at this notion of tanking for a higher draft choice. This draft likely will be all over the place, the normal evaluation process still being upset by the ramifications of COVID-19. Pin-point accuracy will be challenging.

So remember, take all this into account.

Just like that usually unmentioned $39 million.

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