The whole “will they or won’t they” thing about what the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott are finally going to do about his contract is fascinating, of course. It also is getting a bit old. So for those who are tired of feeling like the characters in a Samuel Beckett play, here are some other things that may be diverting.
It’s time to get away from the binary thinking
For some time now, it has been dogma in Dallas that the team will build through the draft, with free agency just a way to plug holes without spending much in the way of cap space. When Stephen Jones in particular talks about the subject, he gives the impression that he sees this as an either/or situation. The Cowboys prefer to pay the big bucks to homegrown talent. Free agency just gets the scraps.
It’s a self-limiting approach, and unfortunately one that probably will not change for them. The fact is that there is no one way to go about building a successful roster. Further, there is a good argument to be made that the best way to do so is a blend of both. That was certainly the path the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took. The big story there was how they signed headliners Tom Brady, Ndamukong Suh, and Rob Gronkowski on the way to winning a Lombardi trophy. What was overshadowed a bit was that they also have been doing a very good job drafting of late. A recent article here looked at one analyst’s conclusions about how all the NFL teams, including the Cowboys, have done in the draft over the past four years. According to the metrics used, the Bucs were the best overall team during that stretch. They used all the tools available to construct their roster. It paid off handsomely. Signing Brady was also a smart way to finesse a big problem for so many teams.
A good quarterback is hard to find
We are currently in a bit of a slump in terms of recent QB talent coming out of college. Yes, there have been some real success stories like Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, but others like Baker Mayfield, Dwayne Haskins, and Mitchell Trubisky seem to be more typical. Some show promise, but for the most part, first-round quarterbacks have not done particularly well for the past decade. Teams are having to move on from QBs taken near the top of the draft, as in the case of the Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz, an example chosen totally at random and completely lacking in any schadenfreude.
Every year, needy teams spend first-round picks trying to fill the most important position on an NFL roster, and almost every time, some will be disappointed and find themselves having to go back for another shot at finding an answer. This is shaping up to be one of those years. A look at first-round mocks shows that most prognosticators see four quarterbacks going before the Cowboys go on the clock at pick ten. The one done at The Athletic by writers who cover all the teams has Trevor Lawrence going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at one (a consensus choice by just about everyone at all sites), the New York Jets grabbing Zack Wilson with the second overall pick, Justin Fields landing with the Atlanta Falcons at four, and the Carolina Panthers taking a stab at eight with Trey Lance.
It is not unreasonable to see all but Lawrence as reaches. When it comes to quarterbacks, that is generally what teams do, however. Based on recent history, at least two of those four will not be the answer their teams seek, and it is possible that all could disappoint, although Lawrence seems the best bet to become a legitimate franchise QB. If you want a least likely to make it, Lance may be the choice, coming from the same well that led to the Philadelphia taking a very bitter drink of Wentz.
This is not at all guaranteed to be how things will play out, of course. Still, there are so many teams desperate for an NFL quality field general that we could easily see as many as five go in the entire first round, with the Chicago Bears possibly taking Mac Jones at 20 as predicted by The Athletic. There is also a thought that their recent hire of former Texas head coach Tom Herman may mean they are looking hard at Sam Ehlinger.
If 2021 actually produces five successful NFL starting QBs from the first round, it will be historic. It almost certainly won’t.
That is great news for the Cowboys
Assuming that they do not crush our souls by letting Prescott walk, Dallas should not have to worry about the QB position in the draft. All those needy teams that should take one before pick ten rolls around are going to push prospects that could really help the Cowboys down to them. Again using The Athletic’s forecast, they could be choosing between very useful options like CB Patrick Surtain II, OL Rashawn Slater, EDGE Kwity Paye, LB Micah Parsons, and CB Jaycee Horn. CB Caleb Farley could easily get in the mix as well, since he was predicted to go just before Dallas comes up.
All of those address positions of need or ones that the team values highly, even if we cringe a bit at the idea of taking a linebacker and may not see as much value in adding a pass rusher with all the other holes to fill. Still, if the scouting department does a good job and the brain-trust listens to them, the Cowboys have an excellent chance of getting a very high quality rookie with their first pick.
Trading back is still worth considering
Let’s say that one or more of the top quarterback prospects are not taken in the first nine picks, and one of the teams later in the order decides they can’t afford to wait any longer. Or perhaps there is another player on the board that someone else just covets too much to risk them getting taken. If the phones start to ring, the Cowboys need to pick up and see what is being offered. In reality, any trade offers will probably be discussed before they actually go on the clock, so they will know if there is one or more that seems attractive.
This is a draft that may have more value later in the first round and be very worth having an additional day two pick. Dallas has lots of holes to fill, and we should expect them to not have signed free agents that really can be relied on for that. I generally am a fan of trading back to have more shots at fortifying the roster. This is a year when it seems a good option to weigh.
It is still a long way off, and lots can happen before the decision has to be made. But so far, the offseason acquisition of new players looks like it is going to be very riveting.