Spagnola: Nailing This Draft So Vitally Important

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FRISCO, Texas – Here is the irony of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, the annual doings now just six days away, er, seven for the Cowboys unless something drastically unforeseen occurs.

As we know, the Cowboys already spent their first-round pick in last year’s midseason trade to acquire Oakland wide receiver Amari Cooper, a well-spent selection for then and years to come.

But even without that 27th choice in the draft come next Thursday to add to their stash, this definitely is one of the most important drafts for the Cowboys to crush.

Sound strange?

Not really, if you’ve been paying attention.

The Cowboys are in the midst of having to re-sign several of their Pro Bowl players, this on top of already having spent beaucoup cap space on their three Pro Bowl offensive linemen: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick.

Great they have re-signed DeMarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal. But still to go over the next two years or so would include Cooper, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones, which figure to be big-ticket items, creating a serious drain on the salary cap.

But you can’t play ball with just eight guys on what must be considered the greatest _team_ sport in the world. You need to continue to stock your 53-man roster with the likes of Maliek Collins and Chidobe Awuzie and Michael Gallup and Tyrone Crawford and Xavier Woods. You know, the worker bees, high quality at relatively bottom-basement prices.

That is precisely why the Cowboys must continue re-stocking their shelves next week as they’ve been doing over the past several years. That prevents bankrupting their salary cap by signing their star players, along with having to fill in the blanks with expensive free agents.

The draft is the way to go.

And do not spend the next week moaning the Cowboys _don’t have a first-round pick_. They absolutely do. Amari Cooper, who would have been the best wide receiver in this draft, but he also comes with four years of experience, and yet, doesn’t turn 25 until June 17. Man, a pre-draft heist.

So the Cowboys’ first choice does not come until a week from today, April 26, the 58th overall pick, 26th in the second round. And next the 90th overall selection, 27th in the third round later that night. These have to be hits, especially the second rounder.

Worried?

Take a 30-second timeout to compose yourself for these encouraging words from the newest Cowboy selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Gil Brandt, still analyzing the drafts as he began for the Cowboys back in 1960:

“This draft has about 15-17 players that you can bet on going in the first round. There is no question they are going to go in the first round. But then you will find a whole bunch of players from about 17 to 70 that all look alike. … So it’s an interesting draft, and a draft that benefits the Cowboys or teams that do their homework because you can really work out well.”

Of course, I’m sure you want to know who the Cowboys will draft at 58. But you know what, they’d like to know, too. Many might have their pet cat out there, but there is no way to accurately predict what the first 57 picks will be. Not even the Cowboys can do that. That means having to accurately project a range of players you’d like with No. 58. That’s players, not positions.

Defensive line. Wide receiver. Safety. Running back. Tight end. Offensive line. Cornerback. Linebacker.

That about cover it?

“There will be really good football players that will be there at positions that you might kind of hope for,” promises COO Stephen Jones for the pick at 58.

Now it’s a matter of hitting, just as the Cowboys did with some of these guys: Connor Williams (50), Awuzie (60), Randy Gregory (60), DeMarco Murray (70), Tyrone Crawford (81), Maliek Collins (67) and Michael Gallup (81). And that’s looking back to just 2011.

In fact, let’s do this. Let’s look back at the last eight drafts. From those drafts, the Cowboys still have 27 players on their 90-man roster, and of those 27, 17 still are considered starters. In fact, the Cowboys did find 25 players from those eight drafts who started for a period of time, though some have moved on. Guys such as Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Geoff Swaim, J.J. Wilcox, Morris Claiborne, Murray and though he didn’t start regularly, jack-of-all-trades Dwayne Harris.

Plus, those past eight drafts have produced nine Pro Bowl players: Leighton Vander Esch, Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Byron Jones, Martin, Lawrence, Frederick, Smith and Murray.

That means by adding significant draft input from head coach Jason Garrett and vice president of player personnel Will McClay to the Joneses’ over the past eight drafts, the Cowboys, through mostly the draft, have built a roster capable of stringing together four winning seasons in the past five years, three NFC East titles, only one losing season and an overall record of 72-56 and 2-3 in the playoffs – arguably seconds and a no-catch ruling away from becoming significantly better.

Go ahead, add me two potential starters next Friday. Not necessarily 2019 Day Oners, but get me another Collins or Gallup or Awuzie or Lawrence or Woods.

Guys to plug into key roles who just might … just might … grow into becoming a Murray or Jaylon Smith or Anthony Brown or Sean Lee if I may be allowed to go back to 2010 or, uh, for real, a Prescott.

That’s what the Cowboys need to be looking for. Those are the kinds of guys who allow your salary cap to absorb high-priced players while maintaining your winning ways.

“We have to be good all the way through the draft,” Stephen Jones says. “I know that’s easier said than done, but especially when we get in this world of having some really high-priced players – well-deserved, albeit – but as we begin to have these bigger contracts, then we are going to have to have these draft classes step up because there are going to be situations where we can’t sign them all. And we want to do everything we can do to manage it. We think we have a great plan in terms of how we’re going to move forward to optimize this particular roster. We think it’s a young roster that has the potential to win championships.

“But we have to manage it in a good way. As I said, I think we have a great plan, but part of that plan is to have young players come in here who can play and contribute. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve done a good job of that over the past four or five or six years.”

That the Cowboys have. And that streak needs to stretch to over the past seven years.

Thus, despite already having spent their first-round pick, what the Cowboys do on Friday and Saturday becomes vitally important to the future success of this team.

And that doesn’t sound so weird, does it?

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