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2021 free agency may put the final bow on what was an unsuccessful 2017 draft for the Cowboys

It’s possible the Cowboys have none of their 2017 draft picks on their roster this upcoming season.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have had a lot of success in the draft over the last decade. The team’s personnel department has done a good job not only acquiring top level talent from the draft, but also finding many players who are solid contributors throughout their rookie contracts.

Perusing through the last eight drafts, we can get some sense of just how well they’ve done. Here are their draft hauls during that time span:

A couple things to note about what you’re seeing above. First off, players highlighted in blue are players who have received a second contract from the Cowboys. Those highlighted in green played out their rookie deals in Dallas, but were not given a second contract by the team. You may notice that Dak Prescott is blue, and that’s because we’re just going to do our best guess with that one as the great majority of “experts” believe he will remain with the team. Randy Gregory is also blue, and although he’s only played in four seasons with the team due to a series of suspensions, he has been given two separate one-year extensions and he’s under contract for the 2021 season.

The other thing to note is the values next to each player is their average approximate value. Pro Football Reference uses AV to measure a players value for each season, so we’ve just taken their total AV value and divided it by the number of years since they were drafted to help give us some type of apples to apples comparison of what these players have done.

Looking at this tells us quite a bit of information. We can see how epic the 2016 draft was for the Cowboys. Four players have received additional money from the Cowboys beyond their original rookie deals, and six total players played through their rookie deals. That, far and away, surpasses any of these other draft classes.

There is obviously not much color in the last three draft classes as the outcomes of most of these players are too be determined. Amari Cooper is one exception. Yes, Cooper wasn’t drafted by Dallas, but the team traded away their 2019 first-round pick to get him, so he’s included as is his average AV for the last two seasons.

Summarizing all this, we can stack how well the team has drafted during this time window as well as what players are the biggest contributors to the high scores of their respective draft classes.

For what looks like just a coincidence, the top half of this group are all from even years as it seems like the team goes back and forth between great and unimpressive draft hauls. CeeDee Lamb is off to a nice start in his bid to be one of the greats in this league. You may also notice that six of the seven players listed are all offensive players. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as the team not only has used their top draft capital on the offensive side of the ball more often, but they’ve just had better success finding good players on offense than they have on defense.

The 2017 draft class serves as a good example of the team’s inability to find great defensive players. Seven of their nine draft picks were defensive players. Oddly enough, six of those seven defenders were either DB’s or DT’s, which just so happens to remain the team’s biggest needs entering this year’s draft. The Cowboys tried hard to attack the defense in this draft. They didn’t make an offensive selection until pick no. 133 in Ryan Switzer and then not again until pick no. 239 in Noah Brown.

The defensive picks they did make were very unspectacular, starting with first-round bust Taco Charlton. It appeared the team did a solid job thereafter as they selected three defensive backs - Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods. All three of those players have been solid for the defense throughout their rookie deals. Those three, combined with Noah Brown, are all entering free agency this offseason.

Looking at this group, it’s hard seeing any of the three DB’s getting a second contract with the Cowboys. Awuzie is the best of this group, and his skills will likely land him on a team that is willing to pay more money in free agency than the Cowboys. Woods is a solid player, but this team needs to find a better starting caliber safety. And Lewis makes a good slot corner, but the team already has Anthony Brown who has started over Lewis in the slot in past seasons, so it’s hard seeing the Cowboys willing to pay much to keep Lewis around. Lewis shouldn’t have much trouble finding work elsewhere.

If either of these players aren’t able to find a taker on the open market, it’s possible they return to Dallas on a bargain-priced deal, but it’s hard seeing the Cowboys front office make competitive offers if other NFL teams are vying for their services.

In fact, if I had to bet on any of these unrestricted free agents getting a second contract, it’s going to be Noah Brown. He’ll be super cheap and he has a definitive role on the team, which includes logging the fourth-most snaps on special teams last season. But even Brown returning could be a little iffy.

Could this be the end of the line for the 2017 draft class when it comes to their time in Dallas?