Entering this offseason, the Cowboys front office has been criticized for their passive approach to filling needs via free agency. What happened to the aggressive style of Jerry Jones that helped catapult his team into legit Super Bowl contenders? Not only did he used to be a big-spender in free agency, but he was making all sorts of deals come draft time. Prior to the 2014 season, the Cowboys had traded out of their original spot in the first round in three of the last four drafts, landing them - Dez Bryant (2010), Morris Claiborne (2012), and Travis Frederick (2013).
But since then, things have changed. The Cowboys have shown more patience and have been quiet when it comes to free agency and they have now picked at their original spot in the first round in each of the last four drafts.
Enter 2018. While free agency started out just like it had the last several years with virtually no activity by the Cowboys, things changed in a hurry with one fantastic weekend. It started with the Allen Hurns signing, followed by an agreement with Cameron Fleming. Dallas also just recently added some nice depth along the defensive line with Kony Ealy. Most fans are very pleased with the assertiveness of the front office to tackle these pressing offseason needs with quality players.
Is it possible this assertiveness trickles over into the 2018 NFL Draft a couple weeks from now? The Cowboys could decide to push hard for a player they really love in the first round. With only so many first-round graded players available, if Dallas wants a true playmaker, they may have to surrender another premium draft resource in order to move up and secure their guy.
There are two names that surface the most in discussions of possibly moving up in the first round - linebacker Roquan Smith from Georgia and safety Derwin James from Florida State. Both of these guys are star players on defense. With Smith, the team would get their future star linebacker. Sean Lee’s age and wear on his body would no longer be held over the Cowboys’ head. Gone would be the days that the success of holding off their opponents would hinge solely on the availability of one player. It’s like the Cowboys offense without Tony Romo before they had an adequate replacement. It was dreadful.
The Cowboys currently have an All-Pro pass rusher, All-Pro linebacker, and would love to get a star player in the secondary. For that reason, talks of Seattle’s Earl Thomas has filled the air as a possible answer at safety. The problem with Thomas is threefold - first, he’d cost some pricey draft capital. Next, he’d cost some pricey cap space. Finally, he’s 29-years-old. That’s not over the hill by any means, but the window of star caliber play is certainly much smaller. With James, the draft cost is still there but the other two factors are non-existent. He would be much cheaper, especially across a duration of four years (five, if you count the fifth-year option). Even more than that though is he would have an entire career ahead of him to showcase his talent.
Giving up a second-round draft pick to move up to somewhere like 11 or 12 is a lot to forgo when the team could use some other quality college players to help strengthen the roster. But what exactly would they be giving up? While it’s tough to say who will be available at pick 50 for the Cowboys, let’s take a look at the players the team has shown an interest in via official 30 visits, Dallas Day, and private workouts who would be possible second-round targets.
Christian Kirk - It would be great if he made it to 50, but that’s asking a lot. He’s rated by some as the third WR in this draft class and is likely a late first-/early second-round pick.
Kolton Miller - He’s also projected as late first-/early second-round. And unlike a lot of tackles the team has shown interest in, Miller isn’t a guy you’d be okay with moving inside. That means another position change for La’el Collins and yet another year of shuffling around offensive linemen.
Arden Key - Stop me if you’ve heard this before. He’s one of the most talented pass rushers in the draft and would be a steal in the second round, but his character concerns could be a real problem. The Cowboys are already crossing their fingers with one of these types of players as Randy Gregory is trying to see if he can finally contribute in year four of his NFL tenure.
Austin Corbett - Solid player at the guard position who may be able to come in and be a day one starter. I’m comfortable with this pick at 50, however, he’s not so good that I would pass up on a player like Smith or James.
Nathan Shepard - Interesting upside, but possibly too early for a player of his talent. I’m not discounting small school guys, but for a second-round investment who you’d expect to be an immediate starter, he seems a little risky to me. I’m okay with him at pick 81 though.
Malik Jefferson - Another interesting pick. The raw athleticism is appealing, but he needs a lot of work improving his play diagnosis ability. The mentorship of Lee and Jaylon Smith would be great for him, but if he gets thrown to the wolves his rookie season, that could be a nightmare for the Cowboys defense.
Braden Smith - Not terrible, but too early for my taste. This has too much of a Chaz Green-like reach to it.
James Washington - There are too many similar level wide receivers in this draft that would be there at 81 to consider taking Washington in the second round. No thanks.
Honestly, unless a gift falls in their lap, they could be picking in a dead spot in the draft. There aren’t a slew of players I’m loving at 50 and if the Cowboys feel the same way - wouldn’t that make them more inclined to give it up in a trade in order to get a star player on defense? That doesn’t even take into consideration that the Cowboys have had a tough time finding good players in the second round. Dallas hasn’t drafted a player who played in all 16 games his rookie season since 2013 when they selected Gavin Escobar and all those reps were limited as he was stuck behind Jason Witten.
Trading up is not something many fans like because giving up precious draft capital can be costly. We know that first hand from the Morris Claiborne/Bobby Wagner fiasco of 2012. But Derwin James could be better than Claiborne. And there might not be a Wagner just waiting for the Cowboys in the second round. If Smith or James slide and they get an opportunity to make a move, the Cowboys should strongly consider it. Dallas got a good mark with their free agency moves. Following it up with one of the blue-chip stars in the draft, who happens to play a defensive position of need could be the icing on the cake.