Team Officials Know This Year's Draft Class Must Make An Early Impact

FRISCO, Texas – Cowboys officials aren't blind to the needs of their roster, and they don't appear to be deaf to the criticisms that have followed them since the free agency period.

It's been roughly six weeks since the new league year started, back when the Cowboys lost five defensive starters to the frenzy of the open market. In the time since, they've had plenty of time to think about the personnel changes, and how they want to go about replacing them.

"The fact that we don't necessarily sign a player back doesn't mean we didn't want the player or didn't like the player," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones on Monday. "I know I get criticized for this -- it's the efficiency of, is it worth it for what that player was going to make? At a certain level it would make a lot of sense. Then you look at how you were going to replace that player in the draft."

Free agency works out in a team's favor sometimes, as Jones himself noted the Cowboys' ability to bring back Terrance Williams at a reasonable price.

But that's obviously not always the case. The free agency period saw Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and Terrell McClain all leave for other teams, leaving the Cowboys without 3,148 total snaps from last year's defense.

That led to an obvious statement from Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones – the rookies the Cowboys draft this weekend can't afford to sit the bench.

"We lost significant numbers of players, but most teams are losing significant percentages of their rosters. But we were selective on what we lost," he said. "So it's important that these players play that we're going to be drafting, and they need to play."

Recent history suggests the Cowboys are capable of that. Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott made the Pro Bowl as rookies last fall, while Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown enjoyed standout debut seasons. To hear it from the front office, there's also optimism that Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper can bounce back after injuries sidelined them in 2016.

Of course, it's also worth remembering back to 2015 and the draft that produced suspension-prone Randy Gregory, as well as Chaz Green – who has been limited to just four appearances in two years because of injuries.

Regardless, the Cowboys are confident there'll be players on hand that can improve their roster immediately. The only issue now is finding them.

"I wouldn't dare project the record of what we can do but I think we've got a team that right now is better – because of the prospects of this draft – that is better than the one we ended out the year with," Jerry Jones said. "I think it's really got the chance to be better the right way, which is to be younger."

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