Spagnola: Braking For Premature Assumptions  

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FRISCO, Texas – Come on now, can we just tap the brakes.

A little.

My gosh, the draft is barely a week old, and I understand the giddiness prevailing after selecting the new guys on the block, and how we tend to live more in the what’s-next than in the now.

But you kidding me, these eight guys the Cowboys selected in the 2019 NFL Draft haven’t even been issued jock straps yet, but already there is suggestions – expectations being circulated out there – about what veterans will lose their starting jobs; who will be traded; who will be cut; and who will not be re-signed next year.

Do we ever just take a breath?

Hey, you know me, I liked the fact the Cowboys used their first draft choice, the 26th in the second round, on a defensive tackle. Thought that should have been their priority if all things were equal with what was left on the board, and they obviously listened to me, grabbing Trysten Hill of Central Florida.

But just because he was the first pick, a second rounder, doesn’t mean he automatically is a Day 1, walk-in starter. When healthy, Maliek Collins is a darn good player. A disruptive player. In fact, the Cowboys are concerned that if Collins in the final year of his contract has another good season someone in 2020 will pay him a bundle of money when he hits free agency.

Same thing seems to be going on with the third-rounder, Connor McGovern. There are those already suggesting he’s the walk-in starter at left guard, and the Cowboys would move Connor Williams to tackle, to either unseat La’el Collins or if not, become the swing tackle and send Cameron Fleming, who was just re-signed to a two-year deal, complete with a $1.5 million signing bonus, walking.

Sounds as if McGovern is a good player. Maybe even a steal in the third round. But let’s see him in at least one OTA session first before anointing him. To me, his first duty becomes battling Joe Looney for the backup center position. And remember, while all seem optimistic Travis Frederick returns this season at 100 percent, even Frederick himself taps the brakes a little, saying, while he feels good, that his strength is returning, now he has to go out to prove he can still play football.

But let’s hold off on assuming Collins will be too expensive to re-sign next year, and that Williams already has right tackle in his future because McGovern is moving in at guard, ahead of Xavier Su’a-Filo and Adam Redmond, who scuffled in there pretty good last season when called on in a pinch.

Now running back. Good picks, Tony Pollard and Mike Weber. And while the Cowboys themselves can envision roles for both – Pollard a third-down guy who can catch the ball and Weber the every-down backup to Ezekiel Elliott – let’s see. Pollard at least challenges Tavon Austin for kickoff return duties.

But I’ve heard this stuff before how a second or third running back is going to spell the starter. Heard it with Emmitt Smith. Heard it with DeMarco Murray. And now Zeke. Never really took place.

Look, I’m all for inserting Pollard into the game plan. But within reason. You really want to take Zeke off the field? Really want to replace the guy on third down who led the team last year with 77 receptions? And come on, how many snaps do you want to steal from the guy who led the league in rushing two of the past three years?

Just got this feeling “Feed Me” will be alive and well. And, let’s remember, Austin was pretty darn good when he was healthy last year. Just wasn’t for very long. And as for Weber, who knows, maybe Darius Jackson or Jordan Chunn might have something to say about that.

Ain’t competition great.

As for the rest, those guys will do well to just make the 53-man roster, and if they do, that probably means they have some special teams qualities. Just because the Cowboys drafted two defensive ends, Joe Jackson in the fifth and Jalen Jelks in the seventh, doesn’t mean you start cutting guys . . . or trading guys.

Which brings us to the most loaded position heading into the start of OTAs on May 21:

Defensive line.

By my count, and assuming the Cowboys add two projected undrafted-rookie defensive linemen, that brings the total of defensive ends and defensive tackles to 16. Tad crowded, right?

But I can just see the smile on D-coordinator Rod Marinelli’s face. He loves competition. Of that gaggle of defensive linemen, let’s see, the only sure bets to be on the 53 likely would be DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Robert Quinn, Randy Gregory (if reinstated), Taco Charlton ($1.37 million base guaranteed and would cost $4.1 million of dead money if not on roster) and I would think Antwaun Woods based on last year’s production (currently recovering from torn labrum surgery).

After that, we’re talking a dogfight for the final four or five spots (Gregory in limbo) if the Cowboys keep 10, as they did last year, including 2018 holdovers Dorance Armstrong and Daniel Ross; veteran free-agents added Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington; first-year free agent Shakir Soto; draft choices Trysten Hill, Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks; and projected undrafted free agents Daniel Wise and Ricky Walker.

“If you think back six or seven years, we’ve done a nice job of fitting guys in and signing a couple of guys in free agency that we really like,” Marinelli says. “The competition is here, and you have to have that.”

Figure Armstrong and Jackson battling behind Lawrence; depending on Gregory’s status at right defensive end, then behind Quinn would be Charlton and Jelks; behind Collins would be Hill and Hyder; behind Woods would be Covington, Ross and Soto; and we’ll see if signed where Wise and Walker fit in.

And the wildcard in all this is Crawford. His spot will be determined by an on-need basis, just as last year when he started the first seven games at the three-technique defensive tackle and the final nine regular-season games at right defensive end. Quite a luxury since he can play either, and as we saw last year, can move inside to become a pass-rushing defensive tackle on the nickel.

Best part about all this?

These guys will sort it all out. So does injury.

As Jason Garrett says, and with a smile on his face, “I think it’s going to be very competitive all across that defensive front for guys to make this football team. Guys to fight for playing time.”

Meaning don’t jump ahead with post-draft presumptions.

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