Spagnola: What's Behind Door No. 58


FRISCO, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys, with the 27th pick in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft select …

Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, University of Alabama.



Now, of course, that won't be announced on April 25 from Nashville, Tenn., since the Oakland Raiders have that pick traded to them by the Cowboys on Oct. 22.

If you're scoring at home, Dallas already hit a home run in the first round, Cooper proving in 11 games with the Cowboys and throughout his four years in the NFL better than any wide receiver the team might have taken in this entire upcoming draft.

Celebrate: Drop that ball in the Red Kettle.


But … but … these Cowboys, even though winners of the NFC East in three of the past five seasons when they have either earned or advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs those three times, cannot rest on a one-round draft laurel this spring.

And as you know in this NFL, if you are not constantly improving you are getting worse.

So with the NFL Scouting Combine just around the corner and the draft just a little more than two months away, never too early to focus on those other six picks the Cowboys have, gaining on Friday an extra fourth rounder as compensation for losing linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilbur while only gaining – loose use of the term – Cameron Fleming in 2018 free agency.

Meaning, the Cowboys won't go on the clock until the 26th pick of the second round, 58th overall, that not occurring until the second day of the draft on Friday night. But then, let's put this disclaimer on the 26th pick in the second round: That is, unless they want to wheel and deal now that they have that extra fourth to move up higher in the second. And as we know in Jerry Jones' Cowboys history, that just might be more likely than not.

And, it's already started. Heck, for that matter started on Sunday, Jan. 13, the morning after the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs by that 30-22 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles, again left one step away from their first NFC title game since 1995.

Who will the Cowboys take in the second round?

What's the Cowboys greatest draft need?

Well, to me, at this point on Washington's birthday, with the start of free agency just 19 days away, at 3 p.m., come March 13, their greatest need is …

The best _player_ they can find. Period. Very little regard to position. And that's no copout.

Let's proceed by assuming in some form or fashion the Cowboys will re-sign impending free agent DeMarcus Lawrence, absolutely their greatest need and ranked as potentially the top free agent this year.

Also, let's not automatically write off losing Cole Beasley to free agency. Now, money will matter when heading into your eighth NFL season. But ask yourself, would you pay a slot receiver who turns 30 on the second day of the draft more than the Cowboys would be willing to pay the player who led the team in receiving in 2016 and led all receivers in catches in 2018?


Also, don't buy into this notion there is no room on this team for Sean Lee because the emergence of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch makes him a cap hazard. Start by asking yourself this:

Who is your starting strongside linebacker? Right now.

You know, Damien Wilson is an unrestricted free agent. And wouldn't it be something to have a three-man starting corps of Lee, Smith and LVE? When asked someone recently if Lee could play strong-side backer, the answer was, "He can play wherever we want him to play."

So let's commence looking for us a second-rounder.

Start with running back. Who is your backup to Ezekiel Elliott? Me, I want an Alvin Kamara-type back. Run. Catch. Returns.

Remember, Tavon Austin was supposed to be that guy, but the Cowboys basically rented him for one injury-shortened year. He's heading into free agency.

Then wide receiver. Come draft day you'll know if you have or don't have Beasley. If you don't, and even though the Cowboys are high on last year's sixth-rounder Cedrick Wilson, can't be really sure how Allen Hurns will return from his injury, so adding another guy to Cooper and Michael Gallup wouldn't hurt my feelings.

But again, I'm invoking best-player philosophy, not dire need.

OK, tight end. At this point, you have two guys who can play: Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin. Remember, Geoff Swaim, coming off his wrist injury, is a free agent. At some point Rico Gathers can no longer be a project. As Tom Landry taught us all, by your third season you better be a player or else. Again, why not tight end?

Offensive lineman? Who's your backup swing tackle? Fleming is a free agent, and frankly, the Cowboys need better than that. Maybe not in the second, but at some point in the top four or five rounds, because also remember La'el Collins becomes a free agent in 2020.

Defensive lineman? We're being told this might be the year of the interior guy. Give me a run stuffer with speed and agility. There's room since the Cowboys certainly will move on from David Irving, his absence this past season causing a wide void. And end? Who you trust now behind, well, say "D-Law" and Randy Gregory? Just give me a guy, and not a red-shirt type, either. A _player_.

Linebacker? Absolutely, if the guy is the best player. Remember, Lee has only one year left on his contract, and in 2020 "The Captain" will turn 34 at the start of training camp.

Secondary – cornerback or safety? Remember here, too, five guys are scheduled for free agency in 2020: Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier and C.J. Goodwin. Never too soon to plan for the future, sort of like contributing to your 401K.

Oh, and didn't mention quarterback. Well, that depends on late-round availability and just what the Cowboys really think of Cooper Rush and Mike White.

And another one of those I-wouldn't-be-mad-at-them: If they found a kicker at the end of the third day. Or sign a free agent to challenge Brett Maher. His 80.6 percentage on field goals ranked 25th in the NFL this season. Maybe Dan Bailey spoiled us. Over his first six seasons before injuries started getting in the way, the 84.4 in 2016 was his lowest conversion percentage. Also, most troubling from Maher was 79 percent between 30-49. Them there are the money kicks. Plus, over the last six games, including two playoff outings, Maher hit on just six of 10 attempts.

See what I'm talking about? The Cowboys can cast a wide net in this draft, and my guess is whatever position or positions they grab on that second day to go with Cooper, won't leave us saying, "They did what?"

Sort of like walking into Baskin-Robbins with its purported 31 flavors. Nothing's a bad choice. Just personal likings.

Yep, free-agency movement notwithstanding, the Cowboys can qualify most any position with their six-pack of picks. But if they've already hit a homer in the first with Cooper, they need at least a double in the second. That combined with any free-agent caulking this position or that, then improves this team for 2019.

And while, yes, the Cowboys did get eliminated from the playoffs by the NFC champs, they did go 10-6, and they did go 8-1 before that loss. Cooper made a huge difference, and don't you forget that. What if he had been there for the first seven games?

You think.

That's why I say bring on Door No. 58. Gotta hit there, too.