BY DAVID MOORE | The Dallas Morning News (TNS)
Jerry Jones will tell you the Cowboys have taken great pains to position themselves where they don’t have to draft for need in the first round.
The owner and Stephen Jones, the club’s executive vice president, strive to sign players in free agency that allow the club to conduct a pure draft, one dictated by talent over desperation when the team is on the clock Thursday night to open the NFL draft.
“I think we did specifically address some areas that give us some slack, if you will, as far as need in several positions,” Jerry Jones said earlier this week.
The substance in this stance can come down to a matter of degrees.
Are the Cowboys desperate to take an edge rusher or cornerback in the first round? Maybe not. But it’s hard to see them not going with one of those positions if they remain at No. 17. It can be argued selecting a minimum of two defensive players in the first three rounds is imperative given the Cowboys roster.
This isn’t a new concept. A defender was the first player selected by the club in each of the last three years. In the 2017 draft, the first three players the Cowboys picked — and six of the first seven — were on the defensive side of the ball.
Dallas lost four defensive starters in free agency. Cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end Robert Quinn were the most productive.
Chidobe Awuzie is the only proven starter on the roster at the moment. Anthony Brown is the only corner who has a contract that extends beyond the upcoming season.
Replacing Jones, something the club has been unable to do in free agency, is imperative.
“Show me the draft board,” Jerry Jones said. “Show me where we are. Show me what we’re doing at that particular time. Show me what you’re offering for that pick and if there’s a corner there and I’ll show you how big a must it is.
“The point is, the only way to answer that is hindsight.”
Let’s counter with foresight.
The club really likes C.J. Henderson. They’re not alone. The Florida corner is expected to be off the board before the Cowboys pick. Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and Clemson’s A.J. Terrell appear to be next in line for Dallas. Alabama safety Xavier McKinney is also under consideration.
There’s a consensus that No. 17 is a bit too early to take any of those players. But none will be there when the Cowboys pick at No. 51 in the second round. If the Cowboys can’t work a deal to move back a few spots and still get one of those players, it becomes dicey.
Replacing the 11.5 sacks Quinn amassed last season will also be difficult. Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory could help, but both players and suspended and must be reinstated by the commissioner to play.
That’s why LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson makes sense if he’s available.
“We’re not just trying to lock into needing a certain player or a certain profile because we have an outstanding scouting department,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “They have these players ranked and it’s important for us to trust our board and acquire good players.
“You never can have enough good players. I think with the defense falling into the classification of a 4-3 defense, pass rushers come in different forms and fashions, and it’s important for us and the defensive staff to make sure we can make each and every individual successful.
“We’re not drafting people to just play one technique. We want to take advantage of these individuals as we bring them into our program.”
Chaisson is more likely to make it to No. 17 than Henderson, but there’s no guarantee either player will last that long. If both are gone, the Cowboys then discuss whether to stay put or move back.
Stephen Jones said there’s a consensus on what to do in that situation 99% of the time.
“Every now and then you got a little bit of dissent one way or the other or a little division in terms of one or two wanting to go one way, but that’s rare,” he said. “When that happens, that’s when Jerry comes into play.”
Do the Cowboys have to take a corner or a pass rusher at No. 17? Stephen Jones stressed the club feels no pressure “to take a certain position early.”
But there’s a high probability they will.
“We feel good about the numbers at cornerback and also the outside rush or interior position,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s important to piggyback off what Jerry and Stephen said, that it’s all based on the value of where you are and what’s on the board at that time.
“But I do know there are very good numbers at both of those areas.”
Good enough for the Cowboys to address defense on Thursday night.