Be careful what you wish for. Cowboys fans have been wondering when Roger Goodell would finally get around to announcing the decision on the suspension of Greg Hardy for his domestic violence incident and arrest. It finally came out, and at 10 games, it was worse than almost anyone had predicted. The only small silver lining is that the team now has an idea of the worst case scenario (pending appeal) and can plan for the draft accordingly.
Initial reaction in social media was that this would place much more pressure on the team to get a top edge rusher.
Well, pass rusher might've just become a higher draft priority than it already was.— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) April 22, 2015
That is an understandable first take on things. But it is probably wrong.
First and foremost, the Cowboys went into this with their eyes wide open. While the 10 games was a surprise, the team clearly had taken some kind of suspension into account. Jerry Jones admitted as much in his initial statement on the announcement from the league.
"This suspension is something that we anticipated prior to Greg's signing, and we respect the Commissioner's ruling.''
There is a lot of legal wrangling still to go, but no one thought there was a great chance that Hardy would get off scot-free on this. The team knew it had to weather some number of games without Hardy. That was clear from the way his contract was structured, which not only protected the team from having to pay Hardy for any games missed, but allows the team to walk away from him with a manageable impact if the team decides it would be the best course. The logical inference is that the plan for the draft already had a high priority on a pass rusher, and this should not change.
Hardy is on a one-year contract, so the team would logically be looking past that with the draft. They undoubtedly have a high value on players who could step into Hardy's role if he is a one-and-done player for the Cowboys. The calculations on who to take at 27, or whether to trade up or down, should not really change now that something they expected has happened.
The Hardy signing was designed to bring help in 2015, and the history of rookie edge rushers shows that they don't often make a big impact in their debut season. The team already has DeMarcus Lawrence coming back for his second year, and the surge he made following his getting on the field after being injured in pre-season shows that he may be able to make a large contribution this season. That is the model for draft choices, and it should not be affected by the suspension.
As was also mentioned, Dallas lost both George Selvie and Anthony Spencer to free agency. This certainly leaves them with roster spots to be filled. However, it is assumed that the team had logical reasons to let both of those players go elsewhere. This would be expected to include a plan for how to approach the season without them. With the draft still to come, Dallas still has a large number of defensive ends already signed, many of whom saw little if any playing time last year. And the Cowboys went 12-4 without Hardy. They also were without the biggest star, Sean Lee, and he is expected to be back. Hardy's absence is not a make or break thing for Dallas, and should not drive the draft strategy. That needs to be based on the bigger roster picture.
The decision when the Cowboys get on the clock will be much more influenced by who is available at all positions. Dallas is hoping to go into the draft with as pure an approach as possible. There are almost certainly going to be surprises for us when we find out who they actually pick. But those picks are the most valuable tool a team has for building for long-term success. The team needs to focus on getting the best player they can for their scheme. If that is a pass rusher, it should take him. If it is not, then they need to stick to the process and get the highest player they have on their board. At some point, they will almost certainly take a pass rusher.
And they almost certainly would have anyway, no matter what the league had announced about Hardy.