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Draft Central | 2022

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Spagnola: Where Draft Day Attention Centered On


FRISCO, Texas – Now everyone should understand what positions the Cowboys prioritized in this NFL Draft.

Maybe free agency, too, when it comes to spending salary cap bucks.

That is, after they have taken care of the quarterback position.

After they have taken care of the cornerback position.

Maybe even after they have taken care of the running back position and had propped up defensive end.

And unbeknownst to those mock drafters, certainly that top priority is not a true guard as many got hung up on, and if it was, the Cowboy certainly would have looked hard at trading up for one of those guys who were long gone.

They were not totally desperate for an offensive tackle capable of only playing offensive tackle, otherwise they might have traded up for one of those four taken among the first 19 picks.

They certainly did not think expending the draft capital needed to move up high enough to grab one of those six wide receivers taken among the first 18 picks.

And the Cowboys sure as heck weren't enamored enough with the heavily predicted notion of taking the only center projected to go in the first round who was undersized and with no position flex to also possibly play guard.

So, here's what all that means.

They still have confidence Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith has tread on the tire, however possibly diminishing that might be entering his 12th NFL season and that Terrence Steel is capable of handling the right tackle position. But then we already knew that, otherwise they would not have released starter La'el Collins and absorbed nearly $14 million in dead money spread over these next two seasons.

They realize there are other ways to fortify the guard position other than spending another first-round pick and more salary cap funds they already have on Zack Martin, and that doing so on the other side just might be a tad extravagant.

They were good bolstering the wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback positions after the first, using the second they did on Sam Williams, the third they did on their steal of the draft, Jalen Tolbert, and the fifth on corner DeRon Bland.

And unless they have something unbeknownst up their sleeve, the Cowboys front office and coaching staff have confidence in Tyler Biadasz capably holding down the starting center job, rejecting this notion spreading rapidly that the 2020 fourth round pick they traded from the fifth to back into the fourth round to select with the 146th pick is a liability.

And here is what to remember when analyzing Biadasz, a Rimington Award winner from Wisconsin in the 2019 season.

Preparation for his 2020 rookie season was shortchanged by COVID precautions. No offseason work. Zoom meetings. No OTAs. No minicamp. A shortened training camp with abbreviated work. No preseason.

In my opinion, if equipped with a normal offseason, Biadasz would have beaten out veteran Joe Looney for the starting job after the March retirement of Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick that 2020 season. And at that, equipped with just three games of backup duty his rookie season, Biradasz had to step up on a minute's notice when Looney suffered a knee injury on the second snap of the fourth game, taking over the starting center job for five straight games, remaining there even after Looney became healthy. That is, until he suffered a strained hamstring in warmups in Game 9, himself landing on IR and missing the next four games and two more he didn't play in once active.

The Cowboys still in contention for a playoff spot with Looney back at center and still on the heels of eventual NFC East champion Washington, decided to prioritize continuity down the stretch, sticking with Looney the rest of the way.

Then in 2021, the Cowboys didn't make much of an effort to re-sign the free agent Looney, deciding the job would go to Biadasz.

Now some were misled during the offseason and training camp when starting left guard Connor Williams began putting his hand on the ball at times. And while some members of the media portrayed that as competition for the starting center job, the Cowboys were actually searching for backup center candidates to prevent having to pay a free agent veteran after moving on from Looney.

Shotgun snaps in preseason games became problematic for Williams. Plus, Connor McGovern at the time proved incapable of becoming a fulltime solution at guard, a job seventh round pick Matt Farniok inherited transitioning from guard to center. Biadasz always was going to be the center.

Detractors were quick to point out Biadasz had problems with Tampa Bay's defensive tackles Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh in the season opener. Well, as the season progressed, who didn't have problems with those two, right. The Bucs did win the Super Bowl.

Plus, let's face it, the Cowboys did score 29 points in the opener and Dak Prescott, in his first game back after suffering the gruesome, season-ending ankle injury the fifth game of 2020, somehow did throw for 403 yards in his first game back, matching Tom Brady basically throw for throw, only for the Cowboys to lose, 31-29 on the Bucs' walk-off field goal drive that began with just 1:24 left in the game.

As the season progressed, and the Cowboys began struggling to run the ball, far too much blame landed on the center. The entire offensive line struggled. Though don't forget, the offense did lead the NFL in total yards, and with the help of nine touchdown returns, the Cowboys did lead the NFL in scoring.

And you could tell in the post-draft press conference, the Cowboys' testy answers when confronted with questions about the center position and not choosing to further address the position in the draft that they were satisfied with Biadasz at center.

"It's hard for me, personally, to take a center that can get knocked back," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, a veiled reference to Wisconsin center Tyler Linderbaum, the top-rated center in the draft who went to Baltimore with the next first-round pick following the Cowboys taking OT/OG Tyler Smith but at just 6-1, 296.

Biadasz goes 6-4, 315. Plus, he is only going into his third season, just his second as the fulltime starter. Truth be known, 1989 third-round pick Mark Stepnoski, who made the transition from college guard to center, didn't become the Pro Bowl center we came to know until 1992.

"I understand reach and I understand going to the second level and I understand the importance of the center to call," Jones said. "This is just (my opinion\]) but it's real hard if that center can't be interchangeable and be a good guard, which does take a lot of base. It's hard for me to go with just that with the makeup of our team right now. Obviously, a prospect that could be both a center and guard appeals to me more.

"Someone here earlier asked the question, 'Why did you pass on that center?' We've got that. We've got a big base guy here. Obviously, we had alternatives, and we got it done."

And at that point, Cowboys VP of player personnel Will McClay had heard enough, sensing the Cowboys were being questioned for not drafting Linderbaum, quipped, "I was just wondering who the best center was?"

And laughed. Sort of.

And even when the third round rolled around, the Cowboys certainly didn't feel the need to move way up to the first pick to select the next center drafted, Luke Fortner of Kentucky by Baltimore. They were more than happy to address another prioritized position, wide receiver, with Tolbert.

Not don't get me wrong, the Cowboys are not minimizing the center position. Nor me. It's just that they are comfortable with Biadasz as the starting center. And now they are in the same position they were last year this time. Just who is the backup center? That would seem to be the more pertinent question. Is it still Farniok? Maybe bring in a veteran free agent capable of playing center and guard, especially an important double on your limited game-day roster? Would they try McGovern again?

We'll see.

But darn sure is clear where the Cowboys centered their draft day attention.

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