Spagnola: Now That Was Some Darn Smart Two-Day Draft Shopping

*        FRISCO, Texas –*Nothing frivolous.

         Just strictly business. Know what you need. Know what you want. Just go get it.

         That indeed has been the Dallas Cowboys' philosophy so far during this 2018 NFL Draft, making those who thought Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would do something outlandish during these first three rounds just because the draft was in his playground at AT&T Stadium look foolish.

This was as if the Cowboys had a shopping list, knowing exactly what they needed to buy with the first three of their 10 draft picks. Heck, you didn't need to be some draftnik to figure out what the Cowboys logically needed in this draft.

They needed a linebacker, or two.

They needed a defensive tackle.

They needed a wide receiver.

They needed an offensive lineman.

         Could use a safety, but not a dire necessity.

         And they didn't need to stray off script, to get seduced by maybe more glamorous positions or more notable names.

         As I've been saying, they showed remarkable restraint, as if they walked into a grocery store with a shopping list and headed right to the necessary aisles. They didn't let those fancy promotional displays influence impulse buying. Just get in and get out.

         So, that they did, especially in the first round of this draft filled with eight trades and ignoring the temptations of those prominently-named players like Derwin James and Tremaine Edmunds falling into their 19th-pick neighborhood. Same with the so-called top two wide receivers many thought the Cowboys just had to have to help fill the void after exiling Dez Bryant.

And over those first two days of the draft they just said no to the Seattle Seahawks, who had been asking a first and third for safety Earl Thomas, and they did not want to budge on giving up either their second- or third-round picks the Seahawks were fishing for, too.

         Nope. Nope. Nope. Just saying no to these sexy temptations.

         "We were pretty much letting the draft come to us," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said. "Just stood in there."

         Stood there and did what they needed to, too.

         Take the first round. About the only guy they were willing to move up for was Vita Vea, the hulking but athletic defensive tackle. Had he approached the mid-teens, maybe like 15 or 16, the Cowboys would have considered giving up a third-rounder to move up for him. But he went at 12 to Tampa Bay. Too rich for their blood.

         So they remained focused on the linebacker, hoping beyond hope no one traded up ahead of their 19th pick to grab Leighton Vander Esch, the linebacker from Boise State. And they had already decided if for some reason he was gone, they would have worked to trade down, way down in the first, and probably would have taken either of the receivers, Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore. Or maybe even the defensive tackle Taven Bryan.

         They didn't have to. Vander Esch dropped right into their laps.

         Where does he play, you ask?

         Well, he just plays. He's 6-4, 256 pounds, but doesn't look like it. Looks like a receiving tight end, but raw-boned strong. Like the country boy he is. And he's agile. For now the Cowboys are going to look at his role like this: They will have three players – Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch – to occupy two positions – middle linebacker and weakside linebacker.

         Maybe Jaylon is your standard middle guy in the 4-3. Then Vander Esch comes in on nickel. Or maybe if they are looking for pressure, Vander Esch mans the middle and Smith becomes a pass-rusher on the strong side. Lee no doubt is the weakside linebacker. But in a pinch, should Lee miss a game or three as he did last year, then Vander Esch is capable of filling in there.

         And I'll make this bet right now: If given enough snaps on special teams, he'll lead those units in tackles.

         Just what the doctor ordered after the loss of Anthony Hitchens.

         On to the second round.

Unfortunately, that next clump of receivers started going off the board early: Courtland Sutton, Christian Kirk and Anthony Miller. And even though their future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten is contemplating retirement to jump into the ESPN Monday Night booth, they weren't that enamored with the field of remaining tight ends.

         So, they stayed the course, because the local kid, Connor Williams from suburban Coppell, was still sitting in the Green Room, where those projected first-round picks had been sitting. It was getting pretty lonely in there the second day.

         But the decision to grab the one-time University of Texas first-team All-America offensive tackle (as a sophomore) was an easy one even though they had been considering another defensive player. Let owner Jerry Jones tell you why: "What reminded me most to go the way we went was that Atlanta game. That stared out at everyone to make it sink in."

         Absolutely. Gave up eight sacks that game. Unable to replace the injured Tyron Smith. Got waxed, 27-7, after actually trailing just 10-7 at halftime. Not enough quality at backup swing tackle.

         "We decided to cure what happened to us in Atlanta," Jerry Jones said.

         Williams it was, maybe the line's penicillin. Now then, the Cowboys figure Williams is best suited for guard. Great. He can battle Marcus Martin for the starting job. La'el Collins can remain at right tackle. And free agent Cameron Fleming can become a much better option at backup tackle.

         Problem solved, and Williams will play wherever they want, saying, "I'm walking in with no expectations."

         Then the third. They didn't pick until 17. Why they had thought about taking wide receiver Michael Gallup in the second. But remember Atlanta. They sat tight, and there he was, sitting there for them at 17. What's he? Well, all I know is that in his two years at Boise State, he caught 176 passes, 21 of those touchdowns. They say he runs great routes. Strong hands. Creates separation.

         Guess what? He's also going to create competition. Yep, none of these wide receivers, not holdovers Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown nor Lance Lenoir, better assume anything. And that goes for free-agent signees Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson. Like eight receivers aren't going to make this team.

         Competition for sure.

         Like it.

         "We came to grips that we're not going to have a No. 1 receiver," Stephen Jones said. "We're not going to live in a world right now that we lived in with Dez."

         And they aren't near done.

         Seven picks left on Saturday over the final four rounds. Now they can freelance some, maybe package a couple to move up in a round. And they actually tried getting back into the late third round. Wheel and deal now that they already bought the staples.

         So find you a defensive lineman. Find a safety. For sure, find a running back. You'd like a tight end, but they are hard to find since colleges these days have devalued the tight end and fullback from their offenses. How about a third quarterback, and if not in the last couple of rounds then rookie free agency.

And there is nothing wrong with doubling down on the offensive line or linebacker, either.

We'll see how this all turns out.

         "This is the most important day of our draft," Stephen Jones said.

         Sure is. And most of all they must remember the importance of don't do frivolous.

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