2017 NFL Draft Dallas Cowboys: Top needs, suggested picks, current outlook

By Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com  |  April 4, 2017 at 1:45 PM
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In their own version of the Texas Two Step, the Dallas Cowboys took a step back from their free-agent tactics of 2016 as a herd of starters stampeded out the gate.

That included cornerbacks Brandon Carr (Baltimore Ravens) and Morris Claiborne (New York Jets), safeties Barry Church (Jacksonville Jaguars) and J.J. Wilcox (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), defensive end Jack Crawford (Atlanta Falcons), defensive tackle Terrell McClain (Washington Redskins) and guard Ron Leary (Denver Broncos).

And that is not including the expected retirement of tackle Doug Free and the retirement of quarterback Tony Romo, announced Tuesday.

The Cowboys covered themselves with some modest free-agent signings, including guard Jonathan Cooper (re-signed), tackle Byron Bell, cornerback Nolan Carroll and guard Stephen Paea. Carroll is the only presumed starter of those newcomers.

That is a bit nerve-racking to Cowboys fans who watched NFC East division rivals get amped up in free agency. Owner Jerry Jones explained why he is fine with all this, especially after finishing 13-3 with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott.

"We shredded some obligations too, and that may be an asset and opportunity, whether it be (salary cap) room or room on the roster," Jones said. "I'm not trying to be cute, but I would say we certainly have created more options in my mind than we've lost."

Here is a closer look at where the Cowboys are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.

THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 1st NFC East (13-3)

2016 STATISTICS
TOTAL OFFENSE: 376.7 (5th)

RUSHING: 149.8 (2nd)

PASSING: 226.9 (23rd)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 343.9 (14th)

RUSHING: 83.5 (1st)

PASSING: 260.4 (26th)

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive end: Jerry Jones has said he wants a war-daddy pass rusher. The Cowboys brought in Damontre Moore in free agency, but he is not the answer. They will look hard at an edge rusher in the draft. They must find a way to get to the quarterback and take some pressure off the secondary.

2 Cornerback: The Cowboys lost Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr in free agency. The Cowboys made no effort to bring them back. And while they signed Nolan Carroll in free agency, cornerback remains a high draft priority. This could be targeted in the first or second round. Again they are looking for upgrades and guys who make plays on the ball.

3. Safety: The Cowboys lost Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox in free agency. The Cowboys wanted to bring Church back, but at a modest price. They have special teams ace Jeff Heath and not much else on the roster. But this is a position they will certainly target in the draft looking for upgrades. Good thing this draft is deep at safety.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

WR Brice Butler: Potential Unrestricted free agent; 1 yr, terms unknown.

G Jonathan Cooper: UFA; $2M/1 yr, $500 SB.

RB Darren McFadden: UFA; $980K/1 yr, $80K SB.

QB Kellen Moore: UFA; $775K/1 yr, $100K guaranteed.

WR Terrance Williams: UFA; $17M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$9.5M guaranteed.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

T Byron Bell: UFA Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.

CB Nolan Carroll: UFA Eagles; $10M/3 yrs, $3M SB.

DE Damontre Moore: UFA Seahawks; $1.665M/2 yrs, $100K SB.

DT Stephen Paea: UFA Browns; $2M/1 yr, $500K SB.

PLAYERS LOST

QB Tony Romo, announced retirement.

CB Brandon Carr: UFA Ravens; $23M/4 yrs, $4M SB.

S Barry Church: UFA Jaguars; $26M/4 yrs, $12M guaranteed.

CB Morris Claiborne: UFA Jets; $5M/1 yr, $2M SB.

DE Jack Crawford: UFA Falcons; $8.8M/3 yrs, $2.5M SB/$3M guaranteed.

DE Ryan Davis: UFA Bills; $2.2M/2 yrs, $100K SB.

TE Gavin Escobar: UFA Chiefs; 1 yr, terms unknown.

T Doug Free (retired).

RB Lance Dunbar: UFA Rams; $1.5M/1 yr, $1.375M guaranteed.

G Ronald Leary: UFA Broncos; $36M/4 yrs, $3.5M SB/$18.65M guaranteed, $5.35M injury only at time of signing.

DT Terrell McClain: UFA Redskins; $21M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$10.5M guaranteed, $3.25M injury only at time of signing.

QB Mark Sanchez: UFA Bears; $2M/1 yr, $750 SB/$1M guaranteed.

S J.J. Wilcox: UFA Buccaneers; $6.25M/2 yrs, $3.125M guaranteed.

MOCK DRAFT
NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 28 overall).

Rob Rang (March 27 mock draft): Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado. By allowing multiple members of their secondary to walk in free agency, it seems that the Cowboys will address that position early and potentially often in the draft. For whatever reason, Awuzie has not generated as much national attention as some of his peers at cornerback but some scouts feel he is the safest of this year's class, standing out on tape due to his quickness and anticipation.

Dane Brugler (March 27 mock draft): Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA. The Cowboys have plenty of needs in the secondary, but an upgraded pass rush will help whoever is playing in the back end of the defense. McKinley might not last this long if healthy, but his shoulder issue allows Dallas to land the UCLA pass rusher at a discount.

Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?

Based on the team's current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see NFLDraftScout.com's full mocks and ratings.

--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.

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