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Cowboys news: Dallas builds through the draft, soon they’ll need to make a decision on the 2018 class

The news you may have missed from Tuesday.

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Cowboys’ 2018 class shows difficulties of building through NFL draft - Todd Archer, ESPN

The Cowboys like to build through the draft, so each year they need to make decisions about players from past classes. The next one up is the 2018 class.

The Cowboys have a $9.1 million decision to make on first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch and the fifth-year option. The rest — guard Connor Williams, wide receiver Michael Gallup, defensive end Dorance Armstrong and tight end Dalton Schultz — are entering the final years of their contracts.

It has been a good class for Dallas. Vander Esch was a Pro Bowler as a rookie and battled injuries the past two seasons. Williams has been a starter. Gallup has become a big-play threat. Armstrong has fans on the personnel side because of his versatility, and Schultz had a career-high 63 catches in 2020.

Do the Cowboys view them as building blocks or temporary fills?

If the Cowboys don’t pick up the fifth-year option on Vander Esch, he would become a free agent after the season. The only other first-rounders the Cowboys have not picked up the option on have been Morris Claiborne (2012) and Taco Charlton (2017), although they signed Claiborne to a one-year deal in 2016.

Cowboys CB Rashard Robinson suspended for first two games of 2021 season - Michael Gehlken, Dallas Morning News

It just isn’t a football season without a Cowboys player being suspended.

Robinson remains eligible to be a full participant in training camp, which is scheduled to begin in July. He can participate in each of the Cowboys’ four exhibitions, including the Hall of Fame game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.

But following the unpaid suspension, his best-case scenario is a Week 3 debut.

This is not Robinson’s first entanglement with league rules. As a member of the New York Jets and following a 2017 arrest for edible marijuana possession, he was suspended the first four games of the 2018 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He reportedly then missed several drug tests, prompting a 10-game suspension in 2019 while a free agent.

NFC East offseason rankings: Giants winning due to free agency aggression, but Cowboys and Washington impress - Patrik Walker, CBS Sports

How things look in the NFC East at this early stage.

Biggest addition: Dak Prescott, quarterback

It’s a move that routinely flies under the radar because he’s been in a Cowboys uniform since being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but it can’t be overstated how big the move actually is. After two years of failing to come to terms with Prescott on a longterm deal, the Cowboys succeeded, inking him to a four-year contract worth $160 million that could expand to $164 million if he continually leads the team to the Super Bowl. It’s a re-signing that not only puts to bed any question marks about the QB position in Dallas, but sent shockwaves outward into both free agency and the upcoming draft. The team instantly had money to spend after avoiding a second franchise tag on Prescott, and no longer has to entertain using a top pick at the position.

Biggest loss: Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback

It’s their biggest loss, yes, but not one they can’t easily recover from. With Awuzie heading to the Cincinnati Bengals on a three-year deal, the Cowboys are that much more needy in their secondary, yet did nothing to address the position in free agency. There’s still some interest in possibly adding former All-Pro corner Richard Sherman to the roster, sources tell CBS Sports, but Sherman would have to first move past his disdain for the organization and then meet the Cowboys at the table with a salary they deem palatable. But outside of making that move or something similar, their eyes are on the draft — hoping to use a top pick to find a dynamic complement to former second-round pick Trevon Diggs.

Roster Reset: Who Will Start At Guard/Center? - Jonny Auping, DallasCowboys.com

The Cowboys offensive line isn’t totally set, or is it?

Connor Williams should have a head start on all competition going into training camp. He certainly struggled at times last year when going up against some of the league’s best bull rushers, but, again, it’s fair to expect his first year back from ACL surgery would involve finding a rhythm and regaining confidence in his body’s ability to take and initiate contact. You have to respect his availability and growth during what felt like a cursed season. The coaching staff will likely pencil him in as a starter, but they’re going to want a competition in training camp, and they’ll expect him to meet that competition head on if he wants to be a starter on a team planning to make the playoffs.

Biadasz, meanwhile, was drafted in 2020 with talk of him being the replacement to Travis Frederick. That’s a tall and fairly unreasonable task, but fans will be hoping to see a noticeable jump in his development to get excited about entering his second year. If Looney doesn’t end up on the roster it might be a sign of how much they believe in Biadasz’ immediate potential.

By not skipping voluntary workouts, are the Cowboys out of touch or ahead of the curve? - David Moore, Dallas Morning News

The Cowboys have decided, so far, that they are going to work out in person.

Phase One of the offseason program and the ensuing organized team activities are voluntary. It was that way 20 years ago when Cowboys linebacker Darren Hambrick, who skipped the sessions, posed the profound question: “What do voluntary mean?”

The idea of being there for your teammates, the importance of building chemistry or the fear of losing a starting job or roster spot have all conspired to corrupt the intent of the collective bargaining agreement. Players have usually abdicated this right unless involved in a salary dispute.

But the global pandemic has forced all industries to alter how they do business or examine accepted practices. The NFL isn’t immune. What we’re seeing in the league to start this offseason will go one of two ways in the future. It will swing the pendulum to a more virtual approach leading up to training camp or teams will adopt the Cowboys contractual model to keep the status quo.

Union reps for 19 of the league’s 32 teams have issued statements through the NFL Players Association that cite health and safety reasons for why the players won’t take part in the voluntary portion of the offseason program. Some declarations are absolute. Some aren’t.

Is 4th Round Where Cowboys Start Thinking QB? - Jonny Auping, DallasCowboys.com

The Cowboys probably still need to address backup quarterback in some way in the draft.

Indeed, the Cowboys have too many legitimate needs within their roster to take a quarterback in the first two rounds. But if we’re wondering where the line might be for drafting a quarterback when the team already has a great one, it might be worth looking at the origin of the quarterback they currently have, and the successful strategy they took to acquire him. According to Jones, they’ll be implementing that same strategy.

“Certainly we’ll keep our eye on [drafting a quarterback] just as we did with Dak when we had Tony Romo, a guy who could make a lot of sense for us there in the middle rounds,” Jones said.

The Cowboys drafted Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and unforeseen circumstances led to him starting every game of his rookie season as well as Romo’s retirement. It is obviously not an identical situation; Romo was 35 in 2016. But the Cowboys also elected to draft Stephen McGee out of Texas A&M in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft while Romo was in his prime, and McGee remained on the team as a backup through 2011. If you go all the way back to 1991, the Cowboys drafted Bill Musgrave in the fourth round out of Oregon just two years after drafting Troy Aikman No. 1 overall (Dallas released Musgrave in training camp). The Cowboys drafted Ben DiNucci in the seventh round in 2020.

Cowboys positional review: Is Dallas set at tight end or should it draft one? - Jon Machota, The Athletic

If not Kyle Pitts, then who?

Jarwin is under contract through the 2023 season. McKeon is under contract for two more. Schultz and Sprinkle are both signed only through the 2021 season.

Although there are several more important needs to address, particularly on defense, tight end is still a position to watch in the draft. The Athletic’s draft expert, Dane Brugler, recently mocked Boise State tight end John Bates to the Cowboys in the sixth round.

What’s most interesting about the position and this draft is that an extremely rare talent is in this class. Florida’s Kyle Pitts is regarded as one of the best tight end prospects in quite some time. ESPN has reported that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is “infatuated” with Pitts.

While every team is probably infatuated with Pitts’ uncommon size, athletic ability and catch radius, he’s not expected to fall to Dallas’ spot at Pick 10. So is Jones so intrigued that he’s willing to trade up for Pitts? A move inside the top five picks would probably be required. That would likely cost the Cowboys at least a first- and a second-round pick. And that could mean giving up as much as No. 10 this year and next year’s first. As great a prospect as Pitts is, there are just too many holes on defense to be that committed to adding another offensive weapon.

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