It has become common knowledge that the Dallas Cowboys use free agency to fill holes so they can enter the draft focusing on taking the best players available to them. Assistant Director of Player Personnel, Will McClay, will lead the charge as the front office attempts to decipher the layout of talent spread across the draft. For example, having a strong understanding that the 2017 draft class was deep in cornerbacks allowed them save a substantial amount of cap resources by letting their veteran free agents sign elsewhere. Smart move.
The team did a good job of assessing the talent in the draft and made their decisions accordingly. Is it possible the team is sending us a new message this year based their recent free agent acquisitions?
It’s not surprising that the team is looking to improve their receiving group. The big three of Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley have a collective drop off of 543 receiving yards and seven fewer touchdowns. Bringing in some new talent to open up the offense would be refreshing to many fans. And with so many appealing draft prospects available to them in April, that seemed like the best way to go in terms of upside and financial resources.
But then, all of a sudden after laying low in the bushes of free agency, the Cowboys signed two wide receivers to the team. The first one, Deonte Thompson, was thought to be nothing more than a Brice Butler replacement. He has good speed and can be a vertical threat who can easily supplement that type of production at a low cost. Allen Hurns, however, is a different story. Now, the team has a receiver that possesses the skill set to be a very good complementary piece to this offense. Hurns has the uncanny ability to create separation, catch poorly thrown balls, and churn out yards after the catch. And he does this by primarily playing from the slot. For all the things Cowboys fans were disappointed in with their other receivers, they now have this all-in-one guy who can step in and provide what the offense was missing. Your guess is as good as mine as to who’s job Hurns will be stealing as he does a little bit of everything.
There are several interesting collegiate WR prospects that will be available for their choosing next month, yet the Cowboys decided to use some of their cap space to bolster their receiving group. What could that mean exactly?
Well, there are a few different thoughts that come to mind.
First off, this could be nothing more than the coaching staff seeing Hurns as a player they really want for this offense. New receivers coach, Sanjay Lal, saw him play twice a year whenever Indianapolis and Jacksonville faced off. Hurns has eight games in his career where he’s had 100+ yards receiving and three of them are against the Colts. He is the best type of free agent to get because money has pushed him off the roster, not anything related to his performance or character. Jacksonville had to cut him loose and the Cowboys pounced.
Or maybe it means the Cowboys are looking for a complete overall at wide receiver? If they (or Scott Linehan, in particular) is fed up with Dez or view him as an investment that is not producing adequate dividends, then they could be ready to move away from him. Bryant’s contract isn’t cheap. As long as he’s on the roster, the team is going to be forking out a good chunk of change for his services. Going a different direction could alleviate some strain on the cap long term. And as we all know, the Cowboys have some soon-to-be expensive young players that will be looking for a second contract in 2020. Maybe this is just the Cowboys way of staying ahead of the game.
Then again, it could be something else altogether. What if the Cowboys view of this year’s draft class of receivers isn’t very strong? We talk about the possibility of Calvin Ridley at 19 without giving much thought that it would mean 18 other teams passed up on what is believed to be the best WR prospect in the draft. It’s entirely possible that they aren’t comfortable at taking Ridley at 19. The Alabama star receiver has been mocked to the Cowboys quite a bit because people see Dallas as a team that needs a receiver. Well, need is not how you want to operate when making big decisions like a first round draft investment. And with the Cowboys recent free agent additions, not many are pounding the table for a WR at 19 anymore, which is exactly what this front office tries to accomplish prior to the draft.
The Cowboys may not be keen on the idea of a wide receiver on Day 1, but what about some of the other options later in the draft? Wouldn’t a player like DaeSean Hamilton or Michael Gallup be a gift if they slid all the way to pick 81? The Cowboys may not see it that way. In fact, they may have different plans altogether. Maybe they have a good list of draft candidates for each of their picks in the first three rounds and none of them include a wide receiver. Maybe they plan on using some of that draft capital to make a deal to go after a player they really want bad.
There is a lot of speculating going on as to what the Cowboys front office is thinking, which is what us fans fall victim to as the long wait until the draft continues, but they definitely have a plan. Figuring it out is challenging, but with the recent free agent WR acquisitions it doesn’t seem likely that the Cowboys will go after a receiver in the first couple days of the draft.
The Cowboys have also filled two offensive linemen spots that lessen the urgency to go after that position early in the draft. Does that mean selecting a guard is off the table at 19? Not necessarily, but the team has the freedom to look to other rounds to find their a young offensive line prospect.
So what could all this mean? While this year’s theme has been “Dak-friendly” and it has many people tossing out appealing draft options on offense, the Cowboys could be preparing themselves for a defensive strike come April.