If you polled a group of Dallas Cowboys faithful about the team’s biggest needs in the upcoming draft, it’s a safe bet that defensive tackle and safety would shake out near the top of the list.
Most fans probably also realize that the cornerback room (with the decision to extend Byron Jones still very much in question) only returns two players in Jourdan Lewis and the much-maligned Chidobe Awuzie.
Hopefully tight end Jason Witten does not want to return in 2020. If he does, hopefully, the next coaching staff having less personal ties to the future Hall of Famer, has the gumption to politely tell him to move along. Most followers of America’s Team would list DT, S, CB, and TE as the most glaring needs heading into the next draft.
However, peeling back a layer, it’s fairly easy to identify some other equally urgent needs.
Amari Cooper will likely either be extended or franchised. Either way, he will at the very least be a Cowboy in 2020. Michael Gallup is under contract through 2021 and will be back as well. Every other Cowboys receiver under contract for 2020 who was active for a 2019 game (Devin Smith, Ced Wilson, Ventell Bryant) is borderline practice squad fodder.
The Tavon Austin project feels like it’s almost over. Two seasons with the team often banged up, and the team still hasn’t figured out how to get much production out of him. Randall Cobb has been a nice addition to the 2019 edition of the Cowboys. Cobb will, however, turn 30 before the Cowboys first regular-season game next year, and the though his big plays have been nice, the drops have been irritating.
The ideal find at wide receiver may cost the Cowboys a premium pick, but it would be worth the hefty price if they found the right guy. The Cowboys need a speedy slot guy, with outside WR capabilities who can also return punts. This way the team can replace the production of both Austin and Cobb with one younger, cheaper player. If that player also has the characteristics to play outside in a pinch, the team has also protected itself from being dead in the water when Amari Cooper inevitably starts limping around again. This also unlocks the ability to move Cooper into the slot at times to give an alternative look.
Wide receiver may be worth a double-dip in this draft, considering how often the team has had to play it’s depth players this season. A big, fast, rangy project type player in the late rounds would be a pretty attractive addition.
Demarcus Lawrence has obviously been paid. The Cowboys have a huge decision to make regarding his partner in quarterback harassment Robert Quinn. The Cowboys took a flyer, acquiring Quinn in an offseason trade that has proven to be an absolute home run. Quinn has played himself into a substantial payday. Turning 30 this coming May, he may see offseason as his last opportunity to secure a major bag before he hits the backstretch of his career.
Rookie Joe Jackson does not profile as a right end speed rusher, nor does 2nd-year man Dorance Armstrong. Neither has shown sizeable flashes of hope for the future either. Veteran DE/DT Michael Bennett is likely just a half-season mercenary and will be moving on in the offseason.
The uncertainty at the defensive end position other than Lawrence really makes one wonder what harm could have been done by retaining former 1st round selection Taco Charlton, who has seen his play improve after getting a new life in Miami.
Even if the Cowboys choose to sign Quinn, the depth is still pretty unimpressive behind both he and Lawrence. As it sits now, the Cowboys need to come away from this draft with another pass rusher. Preferably a speed rusher/right end type.
Jaylon Smith is inked up long term. Leighton Vander Esch is under team control through 2022, but with the recent re-emergence of a neck injury from college, uncertainty looms over the 2nd year stud.
The contracts of Sean Lee, Justin March-Lillard, and Joe Thomas all expire at the season’s end. Luke Gifford showed flashes in the preseason, but really who knows how that will translate in extended regular-season opportunities.
The Cowboys don’t need an early-round phenom at linebacker. Just a guy who can come in, preferably at any of the LB positions and just not be a liability. An early day 3 pick should suffice here.
Brett Maher’s 19 of 28 on field-goal attempts this season has not been good enough. Point blank, period. Maher’s misses have in a few occurrences left the Cowboys chasing touchdowns late in games rather than field goals if earlier kicks had been cashed in.
This is really simple. Good kickers don’t hit the free-agent market often because they are such scarce commodities. If you want a good one, be the team that pulls the trigger on drafting one. Let’s not get carried away and go full Tampa Bay Buccaneers, snagging a kicker in round 2. Just be that team who zeroes in on a kicker, and makes him the first kicker off the board in the late 5th/early 6th. Scoff at the notion of spending a draft choice on a kicker all you want.
The alternative is sifting through the wasteland of journeyman kickers and ending up with another guy who isn’t entirely different from the kicker you have.
Note: Regardless of what the Cowboys do free agency wise between now and the draft, it is my personal opinion that trading down for additional picks is the most attractive option.
No, you don’t ever want to trade away from a rare talent. If that kind of player falls into your lap, you take him. The Cowboys though, have an odd roster construction. The team has a lot of money tied up in positions that other teams universally deem to be non-essentials (RB, C, G, RT, off-ball LB). So while they have already paid their non-essential players, they still haven’t shelled out the money to lock down some of their “essentials” (QB, WR, CB).
After the Cowboys do pay their essential players, managing this roster is going to be quite the tightrope act. Depth will have to be filled in almost exclusively by cheap rookie labor.
The Cowboys need to maximize the number of those types of players on the roster. Trading down to select 4 players in the first 3 rounds rather than 3 might be the type of move the Cowboys need to make routine.