If you want to get a handle on the positions Dallas will look to draft this year, look no further than Spotrac's salary chart of current contracts. You can see from this where Dallas is going to have some serious holes in 2020. I would expect Dallas to try to fill those holes as well as they can.
Forgive the massive chart, but I decided not to break it up. Commentary at the bottom.
|Leighton Vander Esch||LB||$2,692,677||$3,231,213||$3,769,748||-||UFA|
Let's assume that Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are going to get signed to extensions before the start of the season. And let's also assume the Cowboys will keep Byron Jones and Ezekiel Elliott past their current contracts.
Where does that leave the holes?
The Cowboys only have 3 players signed for 2020 in the secondary, but they will have 4 if they extend Byron Jones - Jones, Awuzie, Lewis, and Woods. The last three would then be up for new contracts in 2021, or out.
At the moment, they also have 4 main guys at CB - Jones, Awuzie, Brown, and Lewis - and 4 at safety - Woods, Iloka, Heath, and Frazier.
There are some other filler guys on the roster, but none of them look like they will ever be starters or play significant roles.
What this means is that the Cowboys are very likely to draft a safety and a cornerback this year. We all knew this, and it's confirmed here.
The interesting about these positions is that a quality safety might start in 2019, while a cornerback is almost certainly someone they will give a year to develop, given the competition currently on the roster. So expect a safety to be drafted higher than the CB, and potentially at pick #58.
2. Running Back
With only Zeke as a reliable option in the backfield, the Cowboys are going to have to draft a running back or sign someone in free agency, or both. They need to go 3 deep here, and the other two guys on the roster - Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn may not be good enough to hold a spot.
My guess is they will use one of their two 4th rounders here because the later round picks haven't been good enough to keep.
3. Defensive Line
The Cowboys only have 5 defensive linemen signed or controlled for 2020 - Lawrence, Crawford, Woods, Charlton, and Armstrong. They recently tried to extend Randy Gregory, but his playing status is always in doubt.
On the other hand, the Cowboys already have 10 defensive linemen signed for 2019 - the five above plus Quinn, Collins, Covington, Hyder, and Ross. Randy Gregory, if he's allowed to play, would be 11. They aren't likely to carry more than 10 linemen, and 10 would be a lot and would require cuts elsewhere.
At the moment, the spread is balanced, with Lawrence, Quinn, Charlton, Armstrong and Hyder (plus Gregory) at DE, and Crawford, Collins, Woods, Covington, and Ross at DT. Hyder might be able to move inside, but he had his best year at DE.
So if the Cowboys do draft, the more likely spot would be DT, as they have 3 DEs signed for 2020 (4 with Gregory), with Crawford and Woods signed or under control for the inside. (Woods is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent next year, so the Cowboy only need to tender a contract and he has to stay.)
Ross and Hyder are the guys most likely on the bubble.
This leave a bit of a conundrum. The Cowboys could get by with what they have, but they could also use better interior line play. So, if they draft a DT, as I expect, he will have to be good enough to force his way into the rotation this year. And that likely means making him a Day 2 pick.
4. Wide Receiver
Assuming they extend Amari Cooper, the Cowboys only have 2 starting wide receivers signed for 2020 - Cooper and Gallup. They also have Noah Brown, Cedrick Wilson, and Devin Smith signed, but will any of these 3 become anything more than depth WRs? Will any of them be able to fill the slot WR role if Cobb, Hurns, and Austin all move on?
This is a little like the defensive line problem. The Cowboys are going to have a serious need in 2020, but they already have more guys than can likely make the 2019 team.
As a result, the Cowboys might draft a WR, and if they do, they will have to be capable of playing in the slot. But they might also pass on this group, feeling they could fill the hole next year in free agency and the draft.
5. Offensive Line
One might think the offensive line is set, with the three All-Pros - Smith, Frederick, and Martin - set on contracts that go beyond the five years that Spotrac projects here. Plus, they have Connor Williams through 2021.
But at right tackle, La'el Collins is in his last year. That's likely why Dallas bought an insurance policy by putting an option on Cam Fleming next year.
Beyond that, however, all the backups are only signed for 2019 - Joe Looney, Xavier Sua'Filo, and Parker Ehringer. Adam Redmond will be an RFA next year, so he'll be relatively easy to keep if he's good enough.
Might the Cowboys take a tackle if they think they can step in to start in 2020? Or at least play the swing tackle job if Cam Fleming takes over from La'el Collins? With Collins' near $10M cap hit this year, the Cowboys may be forced to move on if he wants a big raise. You can only spend so much on one position group, even if it's the key to the offense.
If the Cowboys choose here, the player has to be potential starter, as they can find plenty of backups in the bargain bin of free agency.
I believe Spotrac is wrong here, because Jaylon Smith is NOT a UFA in 2020, due to his redshirt year. Still, this is a little like the WR position in that the Cowboys already have enough linebackers, but are going to lose half their group next year - Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, and Justin March-Lillard.
If the Cowboys drafted a LB, they would have to cut someone, and March-Lillard would be the logical choice. The Cowboys used 4th round picks on Hitchens and Wilson, so there is some quality in that round. This year, it seems like there might be higher priorities.
7. Tight End
One might have thought this was a target area, but the Cowboys have three members of their current group - Jarwin, Schultz, and Gathers - effectively locked down through 2020, and I would guess Witten would come back if needed.
So this is a position of opportunity rather than necessity. If a TE who is better than what we have (and better than other options at that pick) is there when the Cowboys are on the clock, they might grab him. But they don't have to.
What I'm saying is - don't expect a late round TE. We have 3 of them. It will either be a Day 2 pick, or nothing.
Once Dak is extended, the main question here is whether the Cowboys will need to keep Cooper Rush. If Mike White is just as capable, there is little point in keeping a roster spot open for Rush this year. Better to go long at one of the positions where the Cowboys need to stock up for 2020 and beyond.
9. Special Teams
The Cowboys might be looking to replace both Chris Jones and Brett Maher, but if they do, they aren't going to draft anyone for these roles.
On the return side, they've already brought back Tavon Austin. The question will be - who will back up Tavon for punts, and who will take kickoffs?
From this, I believe the Cowboys will take a Safety, Cornerback, Running Back and Defensive Tackle with 4 of their 6 picks. That would leave 2 picks from these 4 positions: Wide Receiver, Offensive Tackle, Linebacker, or Tight End.
The biggest need is the Secondary, and it has openings without having to cut anyone. Running back can also take on a couple of players, one of whom is certain to be drafted.
After that, it depends on who is available when Dallas is on the clock.