MOBILE, Ala. – It happens every year, and it will keep happening. The NFL draft provides hope for every fan base that isn't playing in the Super Bowl, so naturally it draws all the headlines.
That's the focal point here at the Senior Bowl, because these are the players that will provide the NFL's next young wave of talent. Year after year, a handful of the attendees in Mobile go on to become full-fledged NFL stars, and this batch will be no different.
At the same time, this isn't the full picture – not for the Cowboys and not for anyone else. As much as everyone wants to zero in on draft needs in January, those will change in due time. At this time last year, no one knew Randall Cobb and Robert Quinn would be joining the Cowboys, and that's not to mention the long list of other veteran players who signed up in one way or another.
Now, factor in all the unknowns on the existing roster – such as a Pro Bowl quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback who all need new deals – and it's clear the Cowboys have their work cut out before the draft picture comes into full view.
"It's going to be a tough deal," said vice president of personnel Will McClay on Wednesday. "It's the NFL. You have your quarterback you have to pay, you have a receiver, you have good players. And when you have good players, you have to figure out how to pay them or how to survive."
It will be a bit of both. The Cowboys are committed to paying Prescott, as both Jerry and Stephen Jones have repeated on many occasions. Stephen Jones said Tuesday that Cooper's contract is the Cowboys' No. 2 priority, after Prescott.
From there, it's anyone's guess how the dominoes fall. McClay was asked about Byron Jones' future with the team, and his answer seemed to suggest that it could be difficult to afford an All-Pro cornerback who is slated for free agency.
"He's a starting caliber NFL corner, a really good player and we have to figure out his financial value and if it fits for us," he said.
You can apply that line of logic all across the defense, given that Quinn, Maliek Collins and others are headed for free agency. Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson and Kavon Frazier are also slated to be free agents, which leaves Xavier Woods as the Cowboys' only safety with starting experience.
"It's a developing position. I don't think we're the greatest, I don't think we're the worst," McClay said. "We're going to try to continue that spot like every other spot."
One way or another, the dominoes will fall. Many players are going to leave in free agency, and the Cowboys will acquire more talent – some of it new, some of it familiar. Two months from now, the conversation about who needs to be drafted will be different.
What we know for certain is that, considering all the moving pieces, this might be McClay and the Cowboys' toughest offseason challenge yet.
"I don't know what's out there right now and what we can do, but we're going to evaluate it all and find a way to put the team together as best as we can," he said.