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Replacements: Cowboys draft may look to fill holes coming up in 2020

There are few immediate needs to fill for the Cowboys, so will the strategy be more about the long view?

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys
The un-retired star is just one key player who may be gone in a year.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys don’t have a first-round pick in the looming NFL draft. But that is not the problem it could be. Because of moves made, including the use of that first-round pick to acquire Amari Cooper, getting the DeMarcus Lawrence deal wrapped up, and a more aggressive approach in free agency to net Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb, they have a really strong group already under contract, with no immediate pressing needs that have to be filled in the draft. They will be looking for upgrades, players that can come in and compete with those already on the team. There just is no place where they really are desperate for an immediate starter. Last year, we saw Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, and Michael Gallup achieve starting positions. We may not see as many as that among this year’s group.

No, the six (as of now) names that Dallas will select will primarily be coming in as depth, and some will have an uphill battle to even make the 53-man roster. That can actually be good for both sides. The Cowboys can take players they know need a season of development. It was something that would have been good with Williams, who needed the benefits he seems to be reaping from a full offseason with the team. None of this year’s draftees will likely be thrown straight into the fire the way he was.

If there is a position that the team is looking at for a significant contribution this year, it is probably safety. But that is about it. That means the team can look forward a bit and perhaps fit most of this year’s draftees to what they see as needs for 2020.

Still, the rest of the draft picks can be looked at more for their return in the future than what they can do for the team right away. It is a bit of a luxury, but with the number of players who are going to be free agents after this year, it may be a necessity as well. Here are some of the notable spots that would be good places to stock the shelves a bit early. (For that matter, George Iloka is one of the one-year signees, so that position is one that has a double value.)

Tight end

Jason Witten will certainly limit the available snaps for any tight end taken this year, but given his age, it is also pretty much a given that the team will need one in 2020. (He may prove me wrong, but I think this year is a way to transition to coaching after the broadcast thing flopped for him.) Many saw Witten’s return as really pushing the need to take a tight end down the list of priorities, but that seems a bit too short-term a way to look at it.

Defensive end

Lawrence is locked up, but no one knows what is going to happen with Randy Gregory. Taco Charlton is still a big question mark as to whether he is going to live up to his draft status and Dorance Armstrong is mostly an unknown quantity. Tyrone Crawford still has a couple of years on his deal, but may be called on more inside as a 3-tech DT. Quinn and Kerry Hyder helped shore things up for now, but are in that one-year club. They say you can never have too many pass rushers, but the importance of getting one in the draft goes deeper than that for Dallas.

Wide receiver

The Cowboys have a bit of a need here anyway with health questions surrounding Allen Hurns and Cedrick Wilson, but the future outlook comes into play as well. Cobb and Tavon Austin are both on one-year contracts, and Hurns is in the final season of his two-year deal. More WR talent, particularly someone who can perform out of the slot, is going to be worth a look.

Linebacker

The Cowboys are in outstanding shape this year, with Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith perhaps the best duo in the game, and Sean Lee one of the best backups. But after this year, things get a bit skimpy. Lee, Joe Thomas, and Justin March-Lillard are all set to hit the market next year (with Lee a good candidate to go into coaching as well). That may explain why so many of the pre-draft visitors this year were linebackers.

Cornerback

There is a need for some depth here, but Anthony Brown is also entering the last year of his contract. The team may want to have an option already on board in case they don’t want to do a second deal with him. He may earn that, but with the other big deals they are looking at, they may want to spend that cap space elsewhere.

Defensive tackle

This is a potential need anyway, even with the addition of Christian Covington and the new deal for Daniel Ross. But the cupboard is really bare here for 2020, with them both on one-year deals while Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods are also set to enter free agency. Dallas has been reluctant to use draft capital on DTs, but they should not only be looking to go there to help this year, this might be the best spot to consider some double dipping.

Offensive line

This is a sneaky one. But La’el Collins has just this year left on his deal, and both the backups in the interior of the line, Joe Looney and Xavier Su’a-Filo, are in the same boat. The fact four of the starting positions and the swing tackle (or possible replacement for Collins) are locked down for a while tends to distract from this, but drafting some O line talent would not be as strange as you might think.

All these positions are ones where a draft pick would be more about the future than this fall. What it seems to show is that things may be a bit more open as far as position for the Cowboys in the draft. The odds are good there will be a pick or two that seem hard to figure out at first, but that make a lot more sense when you look at it from this perspective.

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