NFL Football

Cowboys enter NFL draft believing they have max flexibility

(AP Photo/Gus Ruelas, File)


AP Pro Football Writer

Offseason trades filled two needs for the Dallas Cowboys, who avoided new holes on defense by re-signing three starters.

While the goal is always to enter the NFL draft without the burden of an overwhelming need, the Cowboys believe they're as well-positioned as at any point in a decade's worth of strong drafts.

Dallas has the 26th pick in the first round next Thursday night in Kansas City, Missouri.

“We think we’re in a great situation to really improve our football team,” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said in a radio interview, “but not be pressed necessarily to draft for a need.”

The Cowboys acquired receiver Brandin Cooks from Houston and cornerback Stephon Gilmore from Indianapolis in trades involving late-round draft picks. Both are likely starters who should give Dallas more depth.

After a second consecutive 12-5 season, this one ending with a divisional-round loss to San Francisco, the Cowboys brought back safety Donovan Wilson, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

Special teams ace C.J. Goodwin and backup pass rusher Dante Fowler also are returning, while running back Tony Pollard has been given the $10.1 million franchise tag after the offseason release of two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott.

“Part of the reason I think we’ve been confident in our system is we are able to take care of a lot of our needs before we even get to the draft,” Jones said. “You’re never going to take care of every last one of them, but you certainly want to try to do as many as possible before you pick.”


Picking in the mid-20s for the second consecutive year, the Cowboys can only hope to come away with a player as impactful as a year ago. Tyler Smith, the 24th pick, could be the franchise's left tackle for a decade. That's what Tyron Smith was as the ninth overall choice in 2011.


There's plenty of talk about tight end with Dalton Schultz gone in free agency (Houston) a year after Dallas put the franchise tag on him. Part of the reasoning behind Schultz's departure, though, was the solid rookie showings from fourth-rounder Jake Ferguson and undrafted free agent Peyton Hendershot.

The Cowboys have drafted a tight end in the first round once since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, and David LaFleur (1997) didn't amount to much. Jason Witten, the franchise leader in games, starts, catches and yards receiving, was a third-round pick in 2003.

Offensive line, running back and linebacker are the closest things to needs on a team that doesn't have any glaring ones.


The additions of Cooks and Gilmore mean the Cowboys are in pretty good shape at receiver and defensive back. It wasn't too long ago Dallas was thin at cornerback and safety. Now there are four starting-caliber players at cornerback, including Trevon Diggs, DaRon Bland and Jourdan Lewis. The solid safety tandem is Wilson and Malik Hooker.


Former Texas running back Bijan Robinson has a consensus top-five overall rating from draft analysts but isn't projected to go nearly that high in the first round. It raises the question of whether the Cowboys, in the wake of Elliott's release, would take Robinson if he's still on the board. There's also the question of whether he falls far enough for Dallas to consider trading up.


Jerry Jones says he plans to draft a quarterback this year, and maybe every year going forward, despite the club expecting to give Dak Prescott a third contract that would make him the starter for a decade-plus. The logical question is where in the draft. Dallas has taken two QBs since getting Prescott in the fourth round in 2016: Mike White (fifth round, 2018) and Ben DiNucci (seventh, 2020).


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Updated April 20, 2023

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