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Spagnola: So Many Needs, So Few Draft Picks


SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – Trying times this NFL Draft.

Virtual this, virtual that. Draft personnel isolated at home, tethered to the streaming service of choice, human contact not allowed.

Should be interesting. Especially for teams with new coaching staffs.

Like the Cowboys.

That is why predicting these Cowboys' needs is not the same. Few, if any are familiar enough with the thinking of new head coach Mike McCarthy, who also has a heavy hand in the offense. With what new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is thinking. With what positions they truly prioritize.

We think we know, but then that is based on what we've known previously for the past nine seasons with Jason Garrett, a mighty involved head coach in the draft. Same those four years with Bill Parcells as head coach. They weren't afraid to speak up.

Got a feeling McCarthy will be the same. But he might speak a different draft language from what we've known. Things change.

Now when looking at priorities, and not just the first round, but also Day 2 and 3, these Cowboys, with so many needs and just seven total picks, logically would seem to be prioritizing by worst-case scenarios.

Take defensive end, for example. Right now, on the 90-man roster, basically who you trusting at defensive end not named DeMarcus Lawrence? Remember, Quinn, your 2019 sack leader, is gone, his 11.5-sack total more than all the other existing defensive ends on the roster combined.

Scare you?

Add 'em up. Lawrence led this humble bunch with five. After that, the combination of Tyrone Crawford (just four games and coming off dual hip surgery), Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks (IR) totaled two. Three of those guys with no more than two years of experience, Armstrong the leader with two.

Still scared?

And look, I know what you're thinking: Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith are property of the Dallas Cowboys. Right, but they still reside on indefinite reserve/suspended, and can't join the team until NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates the two multiple offenders. How you feel about that? Of those chances they are given a helmet?

Not only those odds, but ask yourself this: What are the odds they still are what they used to be? What kind of shape you think they're in? How many plays a game you think they're capable of if indeed reinstated? And how bad is the timing of their petitioned returns when, well, who knows if there even will be an offseason or if and when training camp begins?

Let's quickly review. Gregory last played a down of football on Dec. 30, 2019, before the indefinite suspension robbed him of this past season. Assuming the season starts in September, he will not have played a game in 20 months. Worse, since he finished his rookie season in 2015, Gregory will have played in just 16 games over 56 months if the season starts in September.

Worse for Smith. The one-time first-team All-Pro in 2012 has not played a down of football since Nov. 15, 2015. Come September, that will be 57 months ago. Also consider, because of his multiple suspensions for multiple reasons, Smith has only played 16 games since Dec. 29 of 2013, that will be like in six-and-a-half years come September.

Yeah, even if they are reinstated, I'm still scared.

Or take center. Your five-time Pro Bowl center has retired. Travis Frederick has set a pretty high standard for the position. Help is needed. Keep hearing the Cowboys re-signed their free-agent backup center Joe Looney to take his place. Me, they re-signed Looney to be a valuable backup center/guard despite Frederick's retirement, and did so on a one-year, $2.4 million deal, with just $1 million guaranteed. Not exactly a starting-caliber budding endorsement.

After that, what? Adam Redmond? He's never started any of the 14 games he's played in his NFL career, and spent last year on IR. Last year's third-round pick Conner McGovern? Problem here, the guard/center, with the exception of one game in 2018 at Penn State, hasn't started regularly at center since 2017, and spent all of last year on IR. Even if the Cowboys have an inkling of testing him at center, of all years, he might not have an offseason to transition.

And with guard Connor Williams, well, maybe they try his hand on the ball, but he hasn't played the position. Was a tackle at Texas. Not sure you want to count on that, either.

Scared yet in the middle of that line?

There are second- and third-round caliber centers available in this draft. And remember, let's not be short-sighted on these things. Like, who would be the center in 2021 if the Cowboys now stand pat?

OK, let's move on. Third receiver?

That ought to give you pause. And I get it, it's only the third receiver, and you're pretty darn solid at the first two with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. But again, that third guy last year, Randall Cobb, caught 55 passes for 828 yards.

Who you projecting currently on the roster capable of those numbers? Those receivers from last year still under contract would be Cedric Wilson, Devin Smith and Ventell Bryant. That's 11 catches last year. And really only Wilson would project as a slot guy. Now maybe Jon'Vea Johnson. But after an impressive training camp last year, the rookie free agent faded once the preseason lights came on. The shoulder injury, necessitating surgery, probably saved him from getting cut or landing on no more than the practice squad. And Noah Brown, well, he spent all of last season on IR and half the 2018 season, too. He doesn't resemble a slot receive, either.

Hmmm. Concerned?

How about backup offensive tackle? The Cowboys didn't want Cameron Fleming anymore, and for good reason. But there is a hole there.

How about a punt returner? Tavon Austin is a free agent. Cobb is gone. Maybe Wilson, but he has to make the team, right? Not sure who else the Cowboys might trust to at least catch the ball. While they did trust rookie Tony Pollard to return kickoffs, not so much with fielding punts.

Safety? Got Xavier Woods (one more year), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (for one year) and Darian Thompson (for two). Sure need last year's sixth-round pick Donovan Wilson to step up as former sixth-rounder Woods has back there.

Tight end? Blake Jarwin, OK. Signed Blake Bell for a year. Have Dalton Shultz, too. Wouldn't be mad if they took one.

Cornerback? Got four, but one is a special teamer, and three of those four are on the final year of their deals. Of those three, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, only Awuzie has been a career fulltime starter, and even he started losing snaps toward the end of last season.

Have mercy, that's enough worst-case scenarios to keep the Cowboys new coaching staff, scouts and front office personnel, uh, Zooming all night long preparing for this mighty unprecedented draft.

Or maybe they just need to petition for an old-school, 12-round draft that last took place in 1992. Never know when you'll find a Super Bowl MVP, thank you very much Larry Brown, circa 1991.

I mean, like, what else has everyone got to do these days?