While the speculation runs rampant over who will be given the title of offensive coordinator and whether that even matters if Jason Garrett is indeed going to call plays on offense, the Cowboys have other matters to tend to relating to their personnel. As detailed earlier, the Cowboys have 14 unrestricted free agents this year, as well as one restricted free agent and one exclusive rights free agent.
Daniel Ross is the exclusive rights free agent, and given how he played this year, the Cowboys are likely going to apply the tender and bring him back for 2019. The same can’t be said of Darian Thompson, the restricted free agent who served solely as depth for stretches of the season. And then there’s DeMarcus Lawrence, the top priority free agent for Dallas who is seen as a lock to stick around either through long-term contract or franchise tag.
The rest of the list has some question marks, for sure. I can’t see any reality where the Cowboys keep David Irving around any longer, and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur has played at a high level his whole career, but he’ll be 38-years-old by the start of training camp. Other players, like Cole Beasley and Damien Wilson, could very well get offers in free agency that the Cowboys simply won’t match, especially with extensions for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper all looming.
Luckily, the Cowboys will have plenty of options to replace some of those players in the 2019 NFL draft. Sure, Dallas doesn’t have a first-round pick this year, but that doesn’t make #DraftSZN any less exciting. Before we can begin to look at the draft prospects that the Cowboys could take, there needs to be an understanding of which positions Dallas is specifically looking for.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys’ biggest need was both safety positions after Byron Jones switched back to cornerback. Coaches liked what they had seen out of Xavier Woods in limited work his rookie year, and Jeff Heath’s consistency and competitiveness made him reliable, albeit average. A trade for Earl Thomas almost happened a few times but ultimately the team went with Woods and Heath. Woods more than proved his worth, and should have the starting role more or less locked down heading into 2019:
Xavier Woods forced an incompletion on 80.0% of his red-zone targets this season – that's more frequent than any other safety. pic.twitter.com/ha14VIGrbC— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 20, 2019
Heath, on the other hand, didn’t inspire confidence. While he had his moments, he also showcased his weaknesses at the worst times. His utter confusion on Jared Gofff’s game-sealing scramble in the divisional round playoff game was the cherry on top of it all.
Heath will undoubtedly be on this roster next year, as his veteran leadership and special teams skills are valuable, but his role as a starter is very much up in the air. Kavon Frazier, who filled in for Woods early on with an injury, may get a shot at the job too, but there are some talented safeties in this draft class that Dallas could target.
Going into the 2018 season, the Cowboys knew they had a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle in David Irving, the only problem being his inability to stay on the field. And then there was the common refrain of the team still looking for a legitimate 1-technique. Well, they finally found that in Antwaun Woods.
Irving, on the other hand, continued to display how difficult he is, while only playing in two games between a suspension and an injury that seemingly took way too long to recover from. In fact, Irving has only played in a total of ten games the last two years, but he’s got eight sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 12 QB hits, and six passes defensed in those eight games. The question with him has never been his ability to play, but the Cowboys are likely going to move on from him.
Maliek Collins has shown some ability as a 3-technique but his pass rushing skills aren’t as good as this team wants from the position, so finding more of a pure pass rushing defensive tackle in this draft would be ideal.
Though not as big a need as the other two defensive positions due to the emergence of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys are likely to lose Damien Wilson and Sean Lee’s future is uncertain. If Lee comes back for another year, obviously he would be the ideal third linebacker in base formations, but even so the Cowboys know Lee won’t be around for a long period of time. That’s why Wilson was so valuable this past season.
Joe Thomas and Chris Covington are both under contract for next year, but it would be unlike Dallas to not draft a linebacker in the late middle rounds and see if he can compete for a role. After all, Covington has yet to play a snap in the NFL, so counting on him for depth isn’t a perfect plan.
The starters at each offensive tackle spot are already determined. Tyron Smith is still among the best left tackles in the game and La’el Collins made huge strides over the last half of the season at right tackle.
Tyron Smith finished the regular season ranked first in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency at 98.5!— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) January 8, 2019
He allowed just 13 hurries, two hits, and zero sacks across his 489 pass-blocking snaps. #DallasCowboys #CowboysNation
Read: https://t.co/W06Kj3GNtv pic.twitter.com/9PglVxpwIU
The question for Dallas, though, is the backup. This matters more than normal because Smith missed three games in 2018 with injuries and backup Cameron Fleming was forced to play. Fleming did an admirable,if uneven, job, but his contract is up and might not be brought back.
The Cowboys have tried in the past to take developmental linemen and turn them into productive swing tackles - remember Chaz Green and Laurence Gibson? - so maybe they’ll try it again this year. Luckily, the offensive line is a particularly good group in this draft class.
This isn’t nearly as big of a need as it was last year as Amari Cooper has solidified himself as the top guy and Michael Gallup’s progression through his rookie year guarantees him a major role in the offense. But if Cole Beasley leaves for greener pastures, Dallas will be without its most productive receiver over the last five years.
Cedrick Wilson Jr. was turning some heads before an injury in training camp, so he may be in the mix to fill Beasley’s role, and Noah Brown also represents some potential to contribute; and don’t forget Allen Hurns, but his availability is up in the air after the gruesome ankle injury. But there are several options in the draft the Cowboys could target as added insurance for this receiving corps. The best part is that Gallup and Cooper both have the necessary traits to play the slot position, so Dallas can effectively look for any type of receiver they think would be good instead of being pigeon-holed into finding a slot receiver.
This probably isn’t as big of a need anymore, as the Cowboys saw strides from both Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz over the last third of the season. Geoff Swaim looked impressive too before he suffered a season-ending injury. Swaim’s contract is up but both Jarwin and Schultz return in 2019 and might have done enough to lock down two spots. For what it’s worth, Rico Gathers is also under contract for next year.
However, if the Cowboys see a tight end prospect they really like on the board when they pick, they might just take him and have another competition at the tight end position.
The Cowboys surprised everyone with their decision to only carry three running backs, including fullback Jamize Olawale, on the roster to start last year. But now two of those three, Olawale and Rod Smith, are impending free agents. It’s possible that at least Smith stays in Dallas, but the Cowboys are still likely to try and get a couple other running backs on the roster, at least for preseason.
Last year they drafted Bo Scarbrough in the seventh round with the hopes he’d develop into a decent change of pace back for Elliott, but it didn’t work out at all. The 2019 running back class is full of day three prospects, so it figures to have some possibilities for this team.