PHOENIX – The Cowboys aren't finished addressing their defense this offseason, particularly in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Free agency is just entering its third full week, and April's draft could yield new contributors for a Dallas defense that recently lost seven players on the open market, including four former starters: cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, safety Barry Church and defensive tackle Terrell McClain.
The Cowboys have filled pre-draft holes to some extent by signing three newcomers: cornerback Nolan Carroll, defensive tackle Stephen Paea and defensive end Damontre Moore.
Factor in a defensive draft class that team executive vice president Stephen Jones believes is an "inordinately strong," and it's no surprise Jones expects the Cowboys to be defensive-minded on draft weekend.
"Of course, as we've been saying, certainly our focus in the draft is going to be on defense," Jones said Sunday from the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix. "You don't ever want to say that's all we're going to take. The best player still applies. At the same time, we've made some moves to shore up some of these, especially on offense, so we don't necessarily have needs on the offensive side of the ball.
"Now let me be real clear, if a great offensive player shows up that's of great value to us, that doesn't mean we aren't going to pick an offensive player. But our focus is on defense, and even though we lost some numbers on defense, some of them we were ready to move on from and then there are others – obviously, we replaced our corner (in free agency with Carroll). We had four really good corners, as it turned out last year."
The Cowboys entered the offseason with a realistic approach regarding the 20 players on their 2016 roster who were scheduled to be free agents: they knew they couldn't keep them all.
Nine total players have departed since the March 9 start of the new league year: Carr, Church, Claiborne, McClain, defensive lineman Jack Crawford, safety J.J. Wilcox, defensive end Ryan Davis, guard Ronald Leary and running back Lance Dunbar.
The Cowboys have brought in or brought back 10 players: four newcomers (Carroll, Paea, Moore, offensive tackle Byron Bell) and six returning players (wide receivers Terrance Williams and Brice Butler, running back Darren McFadden, guard Jonathan Cooper, quarterback Kellen Moore and defensive end David Irving).
"At the end of the day, we value our players," Jones said. "At certain numbers it's efficient for us to sign them and at other numbers it's not. We have a lot of good young players on defense where we lost players here."[embeddedad0]
Williams' return, in particular, ensures the Cowboys are covered at both starting receiver spots entering the draft. His four-year, $17 million re-signing is the type of deal that will help Dallas focus on defensive needs in the draft, if value and opportunity are there.
The Cowboys hold seven total picks, including the 28th overall selection in the first round.
The defensive traits they seek are clear.
"Well, I think at the end of the day, the blanket stance on the defense is the No. 1 priority is get more pressure and right there with it is 1-A, make more plays on the ball, turnovers," Jones said. "We've been middle of the pack to lower in terms of those two categories and we have to improve. And that's how you win football games."