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Three plus one: Top things the Cowboys need to do before day three of the draft

It’s time to play GM for the Cowboys again.

Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks
Dallas needs to make a run at trading for Earl Thomas.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

Things are going to be heating up soon in the NFL offseason. With the NFL Combine starting at the end of this month, the real wheeling-and-dealing is going to start for the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the teams. It is in Indianapolis that franchises not only gather the measurements and drill results on college players, but a lot of work on possible trades gets done. And then free agency and the draft come along.

Dallas is expected to have ten draft picks to work with once the compensatory selections are awarded, thanks to several former players getting some nice deals from other teams last year. Most of them are on day three, and while those are important, it is the first three picks they currently have that are going to be most important in improving the roster. This is a suggested approach to those high-value selections on the first two days of the draft.

But first there are the opportunities in working out a trade and signing free agents. However, the Cowboys have a well-established policy of not diving into the free agent market early, preferring to wait for the first wave or two to pass, with the big contracts attached, and find “hole pluggers” in more affordable players still out there. That is unlikely to yield any players who will make a real impact. Last year’s biggest signing, Nolan Carroll, did not even make it through a few games before being released, mostly due to the big dive into secondary players in the draft.

While free agency isn’t likely to have any big effect on things, there is one trade the team needs to explore, the much discussed acquisition of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. With the signing of secondary coach and defensive passing game coordinator Kris Richard, also from Seattle, the hope is that the team will develop their own version of the famed Legion of Boom, and what could be better than bringing in one of the members of that infamous group? Thomas has certainly signaled that he is open to playing in Dallas.

However, the question is what the cost will be? The contract required is not a major stumbling block as Stephen Jones has often demonstrated his creativity in structuring deals to keep the salary cap from being a hindrance. What is a possible roadblock is what the Seahawks would demand in terms of draft picks. If Seattle demands a third-round pick or more, then the Cowboys shouldn’t make a deal. They need those premium picks to get the rookies they desire. But given Thomas’ open flirtation with Jason Garrett, his current employers may not need that much in return. If he is truly looking to get out, Seattle may just be willing to take lesser compensation. And with compensatory picks now tradeable, Dallas could easily part with a fourth-round spot as part of a compensation package to get Thomas. There are a lot of ifs and maybes involved, but the team has to seriously explore what is possible.

However that turns out, the Cowboys still have to figure out how to use those first three draft picks. For the sake of this discussion, we will not delve into possible draft day moves. Those are simply too unpredictable in advance

In the first and second rounds, the team should use an either/or approach. Take an offensive guard in the first, and a 1-tech capable defensive tackle in the second, or flip the order.

That flexibility is dictated by having to wait out the first eighteen picks to see who is available. Then the team drafts the higher rated position on their board. To get an idea of who those players might be, we’ll use Mike Mayock’s latest ranking of the top five available players.

For guard, the possible choices look to be Isaiah Wynn from Georgia, James Daniels of Iowa, and UTEP’s Will Hernandez. The top guard on the list, Quentin Nelson of Notre Dame, is widely expected to be gone in the first ten picks, and likely the first five. Many consider him the most talented player regardless of position eligible this year. If the Cowboys don’t go guard in the first, then Ohio State’s Billy Price would likely be in the mix in the second, especially with the attention the others are getting.

Should Dallas lose their long-held aversion to taking a defensive tackle in the first, Vita Vea of Washington, Da’Ron Payne out of Alabama, and Maurice Hurst from Michigan are the names to watch for. Vea is considered a pipe dream by many because of the hugely impressive video he presents for evaluation, but some mock drafts have him getting very close to Dallas’ spot (for whatever that’s worth). Payne is also stellar, and Hurst has been frequently mocked to the Cowboys (with the same caveat). Should things align so that the guard position is the one to take in the first, you can add Florida’s Taven Bryan and Harrison Phillips from Stanford to the possibilities.

That takes care of the first two picks. In the third round, it is time to look for a wide receiver. Many think Dallas should address this need earlier, given the uncertainty about just what is going to happen with Dez Bryant and whether he can overcome the perceived issues from 2017, but taking a wide receiver early does not often provide good return on investment. And this year’s class just doesn’t offer any really outstanding options.

Mayock’s top five names might all be gone by then, but one of them may slide. And he has some extra names listed, with a three way tie for the fifth spot. Names that could conceivably show up on Dallas’ board in the right spot are James Washington from Oklahoma State, Maryland’s D.J. Moore, and Anthony Miller out of Memphis. Still, the Cowboys may have to look deeper at this spot to find the kind of wide receiver they want. They clearly have a specific profile.

That is one man’s take on the use of draft picks early. But right now, “take” is just another way of saying opinion, and you all have heard the saying about those.

So what do you think? How would you allocate those valuable draft picks, and what about Thomas? Let us know in the comments.

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