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Spagnola: This Needs To Be The 'Magnificent 7'


FROM HOME, Texas – Over these 60 years of Dallas Cowboys football, the NFL Draft has been the lifeblood of unprecedented success.

Like the very first draft choice, Bob Lilly in 1961, Mr. Cowboy, Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Like nailing Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes and Roger Staubach in 1964, three Hall of Famers.

Like in order drafting Billy Joe DuPree, Golden Richards and Harvey Martin in 1973.

No one will ever forget the "Dirty Dozen" draft of 1975, Randy White, Thomas Henderson, Bob Breunig, Pat Donovan, Mike Hegman, Herb Scott, et al.

Neither will they the first draft of the Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson era in 1989, turning that one into Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski and Tony Tolbert, a Hall of Famer and three more Pro Bowlers.

Or that 1991 haul with 17 draft choices thanks to the Herschel Walker trade, starting with Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Dixon Edwards, Erik Williams, Leon Lett and finishing up in the 12th round with Larry Brown, a Super Bowl MVP.

And jumping to 2005 with no less than DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Kevin Burnett, Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff, all starters, and a for sure Hall of Famer to be (Ware).

Man, all that.

Well, let me tell you, that's exactly what the Cowboys desperately need from this Class of 2020 that already has entered The Star during this pandemic-delayed start to training camp, to some day – real soon – celebrate their 60th NFL Draft. Maybe the "Heavenly Seven." Or maybe the "Rolling Sevens." Your entries welcomed.

Yep, need this as much for the young talent infusion, if not for an almost salary cap necessity. Think about it. Chances are the salary cap will shrink in 2021 unless a life-saving coronavirus vaccine pops up tomorrow. Then there is the expense of Dak Prescott, no matter if it's another franchise tag or just a contract averaging in the high 30 millions.

Then the salary-cap charges for the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, La'el Collins and Jaylon Smith won't be going down. And you'd sure like to be able to continue affording the likes of Michael Gallup, Leighton Vander Esch, Tony Pollard, along with being able to plug a hole with a mid-range veteran on a need basis.

And then there is the age thing, too. Younger is always better.

So let's consider the long-term benefits of going seven-for-seven in this Class of 2020, one Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the final day of the draft back on April 25, "Seriously this is one of the best."

CeeDee Lamb goes without saying. Always want to hit big on your first-round pick. Plus, if you hit big on him, and there is every reason to think they will, that would be filling a huge wide receiver need at a relatively low cost, giving you some hope for retaining Gallup.

Next, Trevon Diggs. Some think the second-round cornerback will start immediately. We'll see. There always is a transition from college into the NFL. He'll be lining up against guys like his brother Stefon every game. But he sure seems like a second-round steal, and like his attitude, saying the other day when asked his approach to training camp, he didn't mince any words, "I'm here to compete for a starting job." Love me some confident corners. Hit on him, and don't have to overpay if you want to keep a Chidobe Awuzie or Jordan Lewis and will continue being able to afford Anthony Brown.

Then there is Neville Gallimore, the third-rounder. And this defensive tackle is key, and seemingly promising, right. First off, since you're not sure of what got in last year's second-rounder Trysten Hill. But after that, can't keep getting older at defensive tackle. While 11-year veteran Gerald McCoy is on a three-year deal, he'll be 33 next year, and there is a reason his three-year deal is structured for a one-and-done, with minimal dead money. Same with Dontari Poe's two-year deal. Could be a one-and-done. Hit on Gallimore and there can be a savings inside on the D-Line. Same if Antwaun Woods and Hill can come through.

OK, moving forward. Fourth-round pick Reggie Robinson, and you might have two shots here: Corner and safety. Money savings if by next year he's at least considered your third corner. Or fourth. Or possibly a candidate to play strong safety. And Donovan Wilson figures into this equation, too, in his second season. Remember, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is on a one-year deal. Starter Xavier Woods is on the final year of his rookie contract. This would be a secondary coup to hit on Robinson, and there seems good evidence available to suggest they will.

Now comes the big one: Fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz. What a steal this would be if he turns into the Cowboys starting center, either winning the job from the jump this year, by time the season is over or plays well enough as a backup to instill confidence he could be the starting center by next year. He's the only guy on the roster now who actually played center fulltime last season, even if it was at Wisconsin. Remember, Joe Looney is on a one-year deal. Connor McGovern hasn't played center since 2017 at Penn State. Connor Williams has never played center. And a backup contender Adam Redmond didn't play at all in 2019. How great would this be to get a starting center on a fourth-round contract.

Next, there is no secret defensive end, other than Lawrence, is the great unknown heading into this training camp. There is Tyrone Crawford coming off dual hip repairs and entering the final year of his contract with an $8.1 million cap hit. There is Aldon Smith who hasn't played since 2015. Dorance Armstrong who has yet to show he's more than a rotation player. Joe Jackson and his 72 rookie snaps from last year. Jalen Jelks, who spent his 2019 rookie season on injured reserve. So please enter fifth-round pick Bradlee Anae, whose college credentials from Utah are sparkling. To me, he should have a great chance of making the team, if at nothing else as a rookie, situational pass rusher. The benefits of hitting on a fifth-rounder would be immeasurable.

And lastly, but not least, seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci, competing to become the third quarterback, and maybe one worth keeping on the 55-man roster, even if promoted from the practice squad. Remember, Dak's backup, veteran Andy Dalton, only signed a one-year deal. And last year's practice squad quarterback, first-year Clayton Thorson, will be DiNucci's only roster competition. And if you look at this guy's college career, first at Pitt then James Madison, where in 2019 was selected the Colonial Athletic Conference's Player of the Year, you'd say this guy has a fighting chance. Seems to be, as I've previously stated, a potential Tony Romo starter kit.

What if he makes it? What if Anae makes it, and both certainly have great chances. Plus, just looking at this roster, you'd have to say, health willing, every one of the first five draft choices are nearly locks to make this roster. Now, with this false start to training camp, a lack of off-season workouts and no preseason games, this might be asking a lot of these rookies.

But, heck, go ahead and ask. At least from the first five, with the first three projected to work considerably into the rotation, and for sure more from Lamb. And why not all seven if looking at this logically.

Would this be the Cowboys version of the Magnificent Seven?

"I think we had, as Dallas Cowboys, one of the best drafts we've ever had," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said the other day.

Look, since the draft was reduced from 12 rounds to seven in 1994, the Cowboys have never gone seven for seven with rookie draft choices making the initial roster. Now, seven of the nine choices in 2018 made the team, but only five remain. Eight of the nine made their initial roster in 2016. Only four remain.

You'd have to go back to 2013 to find the last time the Cowboys went seven for seven in a draft, Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams, J.J. Wilcox, B.W. Webb, Joseph Randall and DeVonte Holloman, unfortunately the potential starting linebacker suffered a neck injury during camp his second season to prematurely end his career. None remain.

And to find more than eight draft choices making that initial 53-man roster during a seven-round draft, go all the way back to when the cap-strapped, 5-11 Cowboys had nine draft choices make that initial 53-man roster in 2001, without even a first-round pick.

So, look at this class this way. There is a huge need for Lamb, Diggs and Gallimore. There is room for Robinson, and great need for Biadiasz. And why not Anae and DiNucci, though Anae might run into the most competition for a spot.

This very well could be a draft-day coup, causing Jerry Jones to point out when only having one first-round draft choice, "I'm not sure we've had one I feel any better about . . . seriously this is one of the best."

And in reality, all things considered during these crazy COVID-19 times from a roster-need standpoint – age, salary cap, opportunity – like a, uh, virtual necessity to be one of the best.