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Follow the money: Five first-round draft targets that would make sense for the Cowboys

It’s just business.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Several great options should be available for the Dallas Cowboys at pick 19 in the draft, so it’s anyone’s guess which direction they will go. We throw the term “best player available” or BPA out quite a bit as it makes the most sense for the team to just focus on raw ability versus trying to fill a certain need on the team. Of course there are some positions that just don’t make sense. Taking a running back or quarterback in the first round isn’t something any of us even consider because we know Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott will be around for the long haul. So what type of players make the most sense for this football team.

Many fans would love to find the missing pieces in this draft that would help round out the roster and give this team the best chance of success in the upcoming season. Most of those decisions, however, fall into the “biggest need” category and that could lead to a poor selection.

Let’s take a different approach. Instead of looking at things with a “win-now” mentality, let’s be a little more patient and determine what is going to help this team long-term. That’s not really what some fans want to hear, but trust me - our future selves will thank us for it. If we look at some of the players on the roster who make up a big financial hit, which of these players should the team be looking to replace? Are there any players in the draft who posses the skill set to step in and eventually replace an aging player with an overinflated contract at a much cheaper cost?

Let’s examine some of the team’s most costly cap expenditures and see if it would make sense drafting their replacement. (Note: I am only dealing with base salaries when determining future costs as their bonuses have already been paid out and inescapable)

DeMarcus Lawrence

Annual cost: $17.1 million

Years remaining on deal: 1

Age: 25

The Cowboys have franchised tagged Lawrence for the time being. Typically if the organization is committed to the player long term, a new deal would get done before the July deadline. If they aren’t sure, they can simply let him play under the tag price of $17.1 million. Lawrence’s first four seasons have not been without it’s struggles. Injuries and a suspension has cost him some lost time. He was healthy last year and boy was he impressive.

Possible Replacement:

Marcus Davenport has the body type and muscular frame the Cowboys look for in an edge rusher. He has great first-step burst and uses hands well to shed blockers. Davenport has a great work ethic and has shown constant improvement in production through each year of college.

The Cowboys still have a lot of question marks at defensive end. Will Tank’s back hold up and can he demonstrate a second-straight year of strong play? What will Taco Charlton look like in year two? And that doesn’t even take into account the great enigma that is Randy Gregory. If Dallas elects to let Lawrence play under the franchise tag and he gives them reason for pause about his future as a premiere pass rusher, the team would greatly benefit from having another young talent with big upside. And it would be a significant cost savings move for Dallas.

Pass rusher is an extremely important position. If Davenport is high on their board, he should be a legitimate candidate for pick 19. Even if Lawrence is part of the team’s future and signed to a long-term deal, nobody is going to be complaining about adding more talented players who can get after the quarterback. If he’s a good player, the team will definitely be able to use him.

Dez Bryant

Annual cost: $12.5 million

Years remaining on deal: 2

Age = 29

There hasn’t been a more talked about player in terms of their future with the organization than the Cowboys star wide receiver. He’s currently spending time with David Robinson (not the Hall of Fame basketball player) to help work on his technique and improve his route-running ability. That’s a smart move as the coaching staff is making a strong push to improve the separation the receivers get in order to help make it a more Dakquarterback-friendly offense.

Possible Replacement:

Calvin Ridley is the best route-running receiver in the draft. He’s an explosive receiver because he has the ability to make all his routes look the same, only to plant his feet and accelerate. By the time the cornerback has figured out what he did wrong, Ridley is off to the races.

Bryant has two more years left on his deal. It’s been discussed that the team will look to get him to play under a reduced salary to alleviate his cap hit. If the Cowboys take a receiver at 19, this would give the front office more flexibility as to how they want to proceed with Bryant. At 29 years of age, Bryant is not a dinosaur by any means, but he’s old enough for the team to start looking ahead towards the future.

Tyron Smith

Annual cost: $11.3 million

Years remaining on deal: 6

Age: 27

Losing Tyron Smith for a handful of games was the single most costly factor in the Cowboys disappointing 9-7 season. The team showed it was not prepared to handle his absence. This has led to the team signing free agent Cameron Fleming to a one-year rental for the 2018 season. While Smith is just 27 years of age and has six more years on his contract, he isn’t looked at as a prime candidate to be replaced anytime soon. But keep in mind, he was drafted at a young age and has accrued a lot of mileage with seven seasons already under his belt. Injury worries are percolating about his long-term future.

Possible Replacement:

The Cowboys love having the best of things and Connor Williams is considered among the best tackles in the draft. He has the make up that this team looks for in an offensive linemen. He’s got great initial quickness, flying off the snap. He has relentless effort, fighting until he overpowers his opponent. And he possesses that little bit of nastiness that you want from a trench warrior. He also has great footwork to slide well in pass protection the bend-ability to sustain leverage against the rush. William’s football intelligence is high and he is going to be a great asset for any team looking for a stud offensive linemen.

The best part about Williams is that he could be a double agent. He’s a good enough player to start at left guard to fill an immediate need, but has the skill set to be a future left tackle. It’s a win-win across the board for the Cowboys offensive line.

In Smith’s first five seasons in the league, he only missed one game, but over the last two seasons - he’s missed three games in each of them. If he starts showing more signs of deteriorating, it would be wise for the Cowboys to have a plan in place to secure one of the most important positions in football.

Tyrone Crawford

Annual cost: $7 million

Years left on deal: 3

Age: 28

Whenever the Cowboys decide to replace Crawford, it’s going to be seen as long overdue. The team gave him a five-year, $45 million deal that they probably wish they could have back as Crawford has not come close to living up to that investment. He will carry with him close to a $10 million cap hit in each of the next three years so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the team to start looking to get out from underneath that contract starting next season (he carries a $7.3 million dead money hit right now).

While he as been filling in at defensive end, he could see a drop off in reps as second-year player Taco Charlton is given more opportunities. Plus, with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen with David Irving, Crawford could see some snaps at his more natural position, 3-tech defensive tackle.

Possible Replacement:

Right now, you can make a case that the team has three options at the 3-tech position - Maliek Collins, Irving, and Crawford. So why would the team invest in a fourth? If the team is not counting on Irving being a part of the mix and will eventually part ways with Crawford - this could be an area of need real soon. It would also save them a lot of of money to not have to sign Irving long-term as well as well as significant cap savings in 2019 and 2020 from releasing Crawford.

Going after a 1-tech might seem to make more sense, but investing in talented, quick-burst 3-techs is what gets the job done. Hurst has explosive get-off and demonstrates the consistent ability to penetrate and get into the backfield. If the team is collecting talented defensive linemen, Hurst should be a consideration.

Sean Lee

Annual cost: $7 million

Years left on deal: 2

Age: 31

When it comes to Sean Lee, you either love him or hate him. And that usually comes from whether or not he’s on the field. There is no doubt that the All Pro linebacker is one of the best in the game when he’s healthy. Unfortunately, he’s had a career filled with injuries and his untimely exits have really hurt the defense. There is nothing wrong about trying to avoid that type of catastrophe.

Possible Replacement:

The Cowboys will undoubtedly be drafting a linebacker this year. The only question is - when? A player like Roquan Smith is most likely out of their draft range so the team will have to start looking at the next tier of linebackers. Thanks to a breakout senior season, Leighton Vander Esch could be one of those players. While his overall top-end speed is very Sean Lee-like and doesn’t wow anyone (he’s faster than Lee actually), his instincts and aggressive nature has allowed him to be one of the top ball pursuers in the nation. While Lee’s size has always been his greatest challenge, Vander Esch is a bigger boy with 20 pounds more build to his frame.

People often wonder what it would be like to have a player with Lee’s mental makeup in a stronger body. While Vander Esch doesn’t have the football mind that Lee has just yet, he could be the closest thing to a Lee upgrade the team could see from where they are picking in this draft.

With only two more years left on his contract and the uncertainty surrounding Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys would be smart to start looking ahead to shore up the linebacker position.

The Cowboys have been known to surprise us in the first round and some of these names aren’t the ones we are hearing a lot about. Are there any players on this list that you think would make sense for the Cowboys? What about different names?