Coming into the draft each year, there are two situations teams find themselves in. For most, it is a chance to rebuild their roster, or at least a weak area. But for a few teams that have been doing a good job with roster management, it can be a tool to add talent for the future without having to worry about making badly needed improvements for the coming season.
This year, after a very effective offseason, the Dallas Cowboys are in the latter position, which is exactly where they want to be. From the players already under contract, they can identify the likely starter at almost every position, and have good depth at most. After three successful first-round picks in a row, CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons, and Tyler Smith, the team has turned the draft into a pipeline for keeping the influx of talent flowing. With some solid hits in later rounds over that same stretch, like Tyler Biadasz, Trevon Diggs, Osa Odighizuwa, and DaRon Bland, plus some others that show promise like Sam Williams, they could be achieving a very rare situation, a sustainable roster from year to year.
This is why it might be a good year to relax and just see how the draft falls for them. The fan base being what it is has people are fretting about how the picks will be used this year, especially the 26th overall selection they currently hold. There are grumbles that the team might use it on a position that is not normally seen as a good investment, like running back, tight end, or off-ball linebacker.
So what? The team doesn’t lose anything, in the sense of opportunity cost, if they do go one of those routes. It doesn’t leave a big roster hole at any position. What it can provide them is a great depth player at a minimum. If the first-rounder this year winds up pushing someone down the depth chart, that is a bonus. But they don’t need immediate production at any spot on the team.
There is a good argument to be made that the 26th overall spot should be viewed more as a high second-round value. This year that makes Williams a great example of what we should be happy to see with their first-round pick, and should always be very pleasing anywhere later. A player that doesn’t get much time on the field because of the players ahead of him, but shows great potential when he does get a chance. The team did not come close to needing him to pay a bigger role thanks to the performances of Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Dorance Armstrong, but they have a lot of reasons to think he is ready when they do. This not only makes the situation great for this season, when we should expect to see Williams getting more snaps, but it is a good indicator that the EDGE rusher situation will have some stability for the next two to three years. That is as far as any team can reasonably hope to project. Bringing in more talent each year is how this can continue to play out to their advantage further than that.
While this is focused on the draft, it is important to note how the use of trades this offseason has set them up. The acquisitions of Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks took care of two needs for the team, positions that can be considered this way in the first round.
Look at it this way. Whoever they get is pretty much gravy. And who doesn't like gravy?— Tom Ryle, offseason guy (@TomRyleBTB) April 10, 2023
Gilmore and Cooks mean the team doesn’t have to draft a corner or a wide receiver in the first round. But it doesn’t stop them, because taking either just means an opportunity to make the roster stronger without a real cost anywhere else. For years, the Cowboys have avoided making impactful signings in free agency, but the use of trades, which they did better than anyone else in the NFL this offseason, is just as valid a way to improve the team, and more cost effective.
It all hinges on continued success in the draft. As shown, the Cowboys have done very well in recent years, but they have their misses as well. Every pick is a roll of the dice, and the odds of coming up snake eyes increases the deeper you get. No team is going to get a good player with every pick, making it a numbers game. That is why the team values picks so highly and wants to keep as many as they can. This year has been refreshing in the way they showed an ability to use late-round picks in another way to upgrade the roster through trades. Both Gilmore and Cooks are almost guaranteed to provide more value than any player they could get on day three of the draft.
The most difficult task they face is keeping this momentum. It only takes one bad draft to drive everything off the rails. Over the past few years, McClay has kept things on track. If he keeps doing so, this could be the best case of wash, rinse, repeat we could hope for.