FRISCO, Texas – What to do what to do two weeks from now in the first round of the NFL Draft?
Grab an offensive lineman, to me preferably a tackle capable of starting off playing guard?
Snatch a wide receiver, one as versatile as possible?
What about a defensive end?
And what to do if the Micah Parsons or CeeDee Lamb of another position that’s too good to be true lands in your lap causes you to reroute your priorities, like now cornerback in light of Thursday’s revelation the Dallas PD wants to question last year’s second round pick Kelvin Joseph about a murder case last month?
More needs than you’d think for a Cowboys team coming off a 12-5, NFC East Division title season.
That is why Stephen Jones, when certainly not wanting to tip his hand, especially knowing that Cowboys first round pick doesn’t arrive until 23 other teams have had their say, put this bow on the subject:
“I think we need to pick good football players.”
Exactly, a whole bunch of them since this team has lost for one reason or another a gaggle of frontline producers from the 2021 season, such as Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory, La’el Collins, Cedrick Wilson, Connor Williams, Blake Jarwin, Greg Zuerlein, Keanu Neal and likely Demontae Kazee.
That’s not drop in the bucket there.
But the Cowboys only have one first round pick. Can only address one of these pressing needs with that first pick.
Well, talent becomes the first deciding factor. Pick the very best player there if standing firm at 24. Sort of like they did last year with Parsons, the best defensive player in the draft on their board. Or as they did in 2020 with Lamb, the top-rated receiver on their board.
But what if all is equal, the talent and the need.
Then to me, the decision comes down to the value of that position. Of course, quarterback is always the top valued position in this league, but thank goodness, and especially in this draft, the Cowboys don’t need one in the first three rounds, and with Dak Prescott under contract for three more seasons, won’ don’t need one for a while.
Then to me, the value comes down to wide receiver, defensive end, cornerback and offensive line. And when looking for a clue, I always say, follow the money. Like which position does this league monetarily value the most.
Tops is easy: Quarterback. Just look at the average salaries of the top five in the NFL, all averaging at least the $41.5 million the Raiders just handed Derek Carr, pushing Dak’s $40 million into a tie now with the $40 million average Matthew Stafford just signed to sixth.
Guess what comes after that?
Yup, wide receiver. The top five guys now, including Tyreek Hill ($30M), Devante Adams ($28M), DeAndre Hopkins ($27.5M), Stefon Diggs ($24M) and DJ Moore ($20.6M), averaging a combined $26.8 million. And get this, there are four more averaging $20 million a year, including Cooper, and another four more averaging at least $18 million a year.
That should give you the league-wide value teams put on the wide receiver position.
Next, it’s a close call between linebacker, offensive tackle and defensive ends. The top five linebacker average comes in at $23.4 million. Offensive tackle barely beats out defensive ends, $21.4 million to $21 million. After that, cornerbacks right at $18.8 million.
And for those championing the guard position, and the Cowboys certainly can use one, just to me, not a pure guard in the first round, the top five average comes in at $16.2 million, and to think Zack Martin’s $14 million has been pushed back into sixth place.
So, listen to these clues from the Cowboys on just what they might do when deciding between say wide receiver and an offensive lineman.
Says owner Jerry Jones: We’ll get one unless a Lamb or Parsons is there,” meaning a player too good to pass on.
Says head coach Mike McCarthy, “We need to be patient,” with the development of offensive linemen, mentioning last year’s fourth-round pick OT Josh Ball and the seventh-rounder Matt Farniok, a converted guard to center, and too guard Connor McGovern .
Says Stephen Jones about the tackle position after mentioning that “offensive line is important,” but pointing out after releasing Collins, their starting right tackle, “Terrence Steele played into that (decision).” Some in the organization believe Steele outplayed Collins last year, and when it came down to finances, it was the difference between Collins’ $10 million base salary and the former undrafted Steele’s $895,000. Bang for the buck.
But then came this from Stephen, maybe as instructive as it can get when deciding between, say, wide receiver that late in the first round or an offensive lineman:
“There is always some offensive linemen but the way they play the college game you got to project a little bit, and work through where that is going to be.”
In other words, harder to as accurately evaluate offensive linemen these days since they almost exclusively pass block in college and the running game is based on more read-option type schemes and almost exclusively out of shotgun formation. In other words, the evaluation process on these guys is more of a crap shoot.
That to me is a huge clue, that and where the positional money is being spent, again if it should come down to the talent being equal.
And look, no question the Cowboys offensive line play last year was lacking down the stretch, and a big reason why the Cowboys had trouble running the ball and protecting Dak.
But can’t you get a starting-quality guard in the second round? Or third?
Then we can look at the franchise’s draft history. Only twice in 61 previous drafts have the Cowboys used a first-round pick on a guard: Martin in 2014 and John Niland in 1966. And as for a center, well, Travis Frederick in 2013, but traded down from 18 to 31, and then Robert Shaw in 1979, but with the 27th pick in a 28-team draft, and he lasted only three seasons as a backup.
Let’s remember, Larry Allen was unearthed in the second round. Mark Stepnoski was a third. Nate Newton was a USFL refugee. Andre Gurode was a second. Kevin Gogan was an eighth. Ron Leary was an undrafted free agent. Tom Rafferty to fourth. Herb Scott at 13. And even at tackle, the Cowboys have only used two first round picks for one, Tyron Smith in 2011 and Howard Richards in 1981. Remember, Collins went undrafted for consequential reasons.
Then there is this when it comes to clues smacking you in the face. Right now, playing a game today, who are the top three wide receivers? CeeDee Lamb No. 1. Free agent signee James Washington, by process of elimination, is No. 2. And No. 3?
Remember, Michael Gallup is coming off ACL surgery and will not be ready for the start of the season. And while the Cowboys did sign him to a five-year, $57.5 million contract, there is no guarantee he returns good as new, especially for this year, and why the Cowboys only guaranteed him $23 million, his signing bonus and the first two base salaries. That’s it.
And let us remember, too, this team’s offense was the impetus for last year’s success, the Cowboys leading the league in yards gained and points scored. The defense was improved, sure, but only twice did the Cowboys win a game scoring no more than 20 points.
And on top of all these clues, there seems to be a plethora of wide receivers worthy of first-round grades, and enough to have the choice of two or three by time No. 24 rolls around.
“We lost two really good receivers in Amari and Ced . . . but certainly we are looking for some people who can make plays,” Stephen Jones said. “That receiver position certainly jumps out.”
And as for quality of the receiver position in this draft, Stephen Jones went on to say, “Well, there’s always receivers, the college game, it’s very conducive to developing receivers. So, there is always going to be good depth at the receiver position.
He would then go on to say, “This draft is pretty deep in the defensive front,” too.
This is not to suggest Stephen is tipping his hand to exactly what the Cowboys have in mind at No. 24. Too many variables and too many need possibilities to pinpoint, and exactly why these mock drafters throw down about five versions.
But if you are looking for clues on just what the Cowboys might do, wide receiver just could be their Colonel Mustard.