*FRISCO, Texas – *Thinking this happens at this time of the year, somewhat prematurely, every year.
Draft talk. Draft analysis. Top 10 projections by position. Top 50 boards. Top 5 needs by team. On and on.
And to think, the NFL Draft – that, oh, by the way, will be held at AT&T Stadium April 26-28 – is still 69 days away. More than two months. Nearly 10 weeks.
Yet, still the buzz.
So figured maybe it’s time to feed the beast. OK, maybe like a small appetizer since the three-day event being held in and around AT&T still is down the road, though maybe not too soon for the Cowboys to start praying for good weather. I mean, come on, what could go wrong in the spring, right? Ha, it’s Texas.
Being debated ad nauseam by Cowboys fans are the team’s top priorities in this 2018 draft, and my answer has consistently been like, hey, just pick a position and they probably have a need there.
Let me prove my point, position by position, and by no means in any order of importance or round priority.
Quarterback: OK, probably don’t need one in the first couple of rounds. Got it, Dak Prescott is onboard, but Cooper Rush is their only other quarterback under contract. The Cowboys need another one, right, if only to bring to training camp. Plus, who is to say a late-round draft choice would not have the chance to challenge Rush for a spot on the 53-man roster, if indeed the Cowboys keep only two quarterbacks. It’s not like Rush is this grizzled veteran, with all of his 15 NFL snaps. So QB, a possibility at some point.
Running Back: With Alfred Morris an unrestricted free agent, the Cowboys only have two running backs they trust: Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. Sure seems like they need a third, and in my opinion, that sort of toy running back, you know a Lance Dunbar-type. A speedy guy who can do a little running and a little catching, maybe help out on special teams. Maybe that guy is Trey Williams, signed to a futures contract after finishing the season on the practice squad. He’s got a little something to him. But that sure doesn’t preclude drafting one at some point.
Fullback: You know, the Cowboys do like having a fullback, and Keith Smith has been a good one for the past couple of years. Now, he is a restricted free agent, but can’t imagine they would give him more than the minimum qualifying offer, which means if they don’t match an offer sheet he might sign from another team, they get nothing in return since he wasn’t drafted. Who knows what happens by the end of April. Not totally out of the question using one of the projected many compensatory picks in the seventh round.
Tight End: Jason Witten plays another year. But what happens after Year 16? At some point, the Cowboys are going to need the next Jason Witten. That tight end is so important to this offense, and why you’ve seen the Cowboys taking a stab at the No. 2 guy with those second-round picks for Martellus Bennett and Gavin Escobar. James Hanna and Geoff Swaim each have one year left on their contracts. Not sure either will ever be considered the next Jason Witten. And I know, I know, what about Rico Gathers? Heck, who knows. Maybe. But you willing to bet your salary on that happening? Hey, if a good one falls in their lap, better grab him.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Absolutely. The Cowboys need a starting left guard. Remember, Jonathan Cooper is an unrestricted free agent. So is Joe Looney. Both will be coming off offseason surgeries. Looney merely a hand one, he’ll be all right. But Cooper will be coming off a MCL procedure, and is expected to need four to five months of rehab. There would be nothing wrong with wanting better. Byron Bell also is unrestricted. That leaves just Chaz Green from last year’s 53-man roster currently under contract. And really, can’t imagine the Cowboys think practice squaders Kadeem Edwards or Jarron Jones are ready to become starters. The Cowboys should not give up on Green, no matter how poorly he played in Atlanta. Maybe let him concentrate on just one position this year, though he never seems to remain healthy for an extended period of time. So, guard could be a priority. So will be backup offensive tackle, someone who can play the left side. My greedy self would like the Cowboys to find a tackle, like maybe in the second or third round, one capable of competing for the starting guard spot and eventually rotating over to tackle. Sort of like what happened with La’el Collins and Flozell Adams and Solomon Page, and in reverse with Larry Allen, who out of necessity played tackle as a rookie before becoming a Hall of Fame guard. Now then, the Cowboys likely will try to re-sign Looney, a capable backup center/guard, and might bring back Bell, though he, too, sure struggled at tackle. As you can see, there is a reason why OFFENSIVE LINE is in boldface and all caps. Heck, got no problem taking a guard and a tackle.
Wide Receiver: Why not? And this has nothing to do with Dez Bryant or his contract. Even if Dez was coming off one of the best, least-injured seasons – he’s only had three of the previous seven seasons with more than his 69 catches of 2017 – and the fact that the Cowboys likely will not have Brice Butler (unrestricted) back, they’d still have room for another wideout capable of playing outside. Yeah, yeah, I know they have Noah Brown. But do you think the seventh-rounder is ready – capable – of taking over for Dez or Terrance Williams on the outside if either of the two is injured? They sure can use another wideout taller than 5-8 who can get down the field. And don’t go to sleep on Lance Lenior. He’s got possibilities, and the quarterback likes to vouch for him. But is he ready to be the backup outside receiver? Got no problem investing in a wide receiver.
Defensive End: Can you ever have enough of them? Right now, the Cowboys have three they can sink their teeth into, or will have once unrestricted free agent DeMarcus Lawrence is either tagged the franchise player or re-signed to a long-term deal: Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton. Benson Mayowa is in the final year of his three-year deal and has been OK, but maybe there is better out there. Datone Jones showed a little something, but neither of those guys would preclude me from drafting a defensive end.
Defensive Tackle: Same deal. You’d think that they will have David Irving, a restricted free agent, but who really knows, and I’m guessing the Cowboys are hesitant to sign him to a long-term deal just yet. Maliek Collins can play either the 1- or 3-technique, but struggled some at the 1 this past season with Irving at the 3. Remember, though, Collins played through a stress fracture to the fifth metatarsal that required surgery at the end of the season. That’s expected to be a three-month rehab. But after him, what? Crawford can play some inside but the Cowboys really liked having a solid run-stopper at right end this past season. So, too, Jones. But no problem here with taking one of those big slobber-knockers at some point.
Linebacker: For sure. If nothing else, the Cowboys need depth here. Veteran Justin Durant likely won’t be back. Not sure about Kyle Wilber, unrestricted who mostly has been a special teams player. Remember, Anthony Hitchens is unrestricted, and the Cowboys want him back, but you never know what that price might be coming off the season he just had. That leaves Sean Lee, Damien Wilson and Jaylon Smith, along with Justin March-Lillard. So then, with Lee’s injury history and factoring in they can’t truly be certain Smith is ready to play at a much higher level and fulltime in the middle – they are encouraged – give me a versatile linebacker, one who can play inside or on the weak side, or strong side with nickel pass-rush capability.
Cornerback: Can you really have enough of them? First of all, as raised in Wednesday’s Mick Shots, who know what will happen with Orlando Scandrick. If you take him out of the equation – and remember Bene Benwikere is unrestricted – that leaves Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis at cornerback, with safety Xavier Woods showing he is more than capable of manning the slot on the nickel. But after that, and since voicing my hesitancy to move Byron Jones to corner the other day, drafting another cornerback certainly should not be out of the question. Ranking the priority will depend on what happens with Scandrick and where Jones is slotted.
Safety: Not off limits. Let’s say the Cowboys keep Byron Jones at safety, along with Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier. Is Woods capable of starting or do you want him to concentrate solely inside on the nickel? That might determine what takes place here. But again, not sure you want Frazier playing too far from the ball. Big hitter, but at some point, those safeties have to cover in space. He tends to get lost the farther he plays from the line of scrimmage. Frazier played 221 snaps on defense in 2017 with as much as one pass defensed. There is room at the safety inn.
Special Teams: Probably not going to draft a punter, kicker or deep snapper. Oh wait, here is one of those free-agency priorities that is overlooked: L.P. Ladouceur, maybe the best deep snapper in the NFL, is an unrestricted free agent. He turns 37 next month. But who cares about that. He needs to be re-signed. Over his last five-year contract, L.P. averaged $1.1 million a year, with $600,000 at signing. Cowboys must hope some team in search of a deep snapper doesn’t offer him a bigger signing bonus, since the minimum base for a 14th-year veteran is $1.01 million. Can’t fault guys this late in their careers to be looking for the best financial deal. And since this likely would be his last multi-year deal, guessing he’d like to be paid. Not sure, though, you’d draft one.
So see, we can make an argument for taking a player at every position, excluding none. OK, maybe not a kicker or punter. Now, as said, ranking priorities is another story.
But when you are drafting 19th, you are at the mercy of what’s taking place before you and what is left on the board. That is why it’s dangerous to go into a draft saying, “I got to have one of these.” Better to fall in love with the player than a position.
Good the Cowboys have 69 days left to sort all this out, but even they must think their position flexibility is quite outrageous. They would have no business turning their nose up on a talented player at any position, thinking, ah, we got enough of those. They really don’t. Anywhere.
I’m right, aren’t I?
There, at least this ought to give you something draft-related to chew on for a while.