Say what you will about Jerry Jones, but he has undoubtedly been rewarded for his patience this off-season. While NFC East neighbor Washington made it rain like Pacman Jones at Magic City, Jerry Jones and company sat on their wallets and waited. Once the smoke cleared, and the prices dropped after the initial free agent feeding frenzy, Dallas quietly walked away with three defensive starters and a backup quarterback. Sure the team still needs another corner. They still need depth at both inside and outside linebacker. The offensive line could use some capable backups and Jay Ratliff still needs someone who can give him a breather. With the draft still more than a month away, the Cowboys currently have a full cache of solid starters. By cashing in on bargain free-agents, the Cowboys have afforded themselves the ability to draft unbound by need.
It may be possible for a rookie fullback to supplant Deon Anderson. Maybe a more dynamic safety could come into training camp and hold off the newly acquired Gerald Sensabaugh. Outside of those exceptions, there is not a starting spot on this team that can realistically be had by a rookie.
The fact that the Cowboys will not enter the draft in dire need of a starter at any position allows them great freedom and flexibility. When the Cowboys make their first selection, they will not have to sacrifice value to fill a need. Having 22 starters already in the fold, the Cowboys will not be forced to panic or reach if the talent pool begins to thin out at a certain position in the draft. If they so chose, the Cowboys can simply hold their water and take the best guy on the board with the 51st overall pick.
The Cowboys currently hold nine selections in April's draft. That number will move to eleven after compensatory picks are awarded. Dallas has an abundance of picks and an already well-stocked roster. These two factors give the Cowboys a lot of flexibility as far as draft position. There is no conceivable way that 9-11 players can make this team. The Cowboys should realistically be looking to reduce their number of total picks by either packaging selections to move up, or acquiring picks to stash away for next year. Either way, Jerry Jones will enter draft day with few needs to fill and a ton of ammunition to move around.
By filling needs via free agency, the Cowboys have also allowed themselves the freedom to choose a player with high ceiling as opposed to a player with a high floor. If the Cowboys prefer a player with more upside, they now have the freedom to chose him over a player with less upside who is ready right out of the gate. This does not mean the Cowboys are looking for "project players", but any player they select will truly have time to learn, as he will not be called upon early to start barring injury. The team can now focus on things like finding Flozell Adams' heir apparent, or adding another pass rusher to coach Wade Phillips' already potent mix. The team can now look for a fourth corner, a backup nose tackle and a punt returner.
The Cowboys still have needs, but have patched all major holes with cost-efficient free agents. Even before the draft, the Cowboys have enough capable bodies to suit up and be competitive right now. No other team can call Jerry Jones and pressure him into anything. The Cowboys will now operate on draft day from a position of power, and not from a position of desperation. With a full deck of starters in place, the Cowboys can now focus on the future while putting key role players in place for 2009.