Cowboys should get defensive in NFL draft
IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys addressed some pressing needs during a flurry of free-agent signings
They added two veteran offensive linemen who are expected to be starters, got a proven backup for quarterback Tony Romo, a starting cornerback, a safety, a linebacker and a fullback in just a couple of days.
Now they need to get really defensive in the draft, starting with their No. 14 overall pick Thursday night.
“It would look like there is going to be potentially top defensive players there,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We have to take into consideration that we’ve done pretty well in free agency relative to our offensive line. … So you’re not off base to say likely it will be a defensive player.”
While the Cowboys defense improved in coordinator’s Rob Ryan’s first season, despite the lack of a traditional offseason to install his scheme and work with his new players, there were five games where leads were blown in the fourth quarter. Their aging inside linebackers became less of a factor and the secondary at times was just horrendous.
Need another indication of what the Cowboys are thinking about for their first pick?
The only on-campus pro day that coach Jason Garrett attended was at Alabama.
Sure, as Garrett claims, the timing worked and it was convenient for him to stop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on his return to Texas from the NFL owners meeting in Florida last month. But there also happen to be several Crimson Tide defensive players considered first-round possibilities. They include safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Courtney Upshaw, all of whom could fill needs for Dallas.
With all that the Cowboys did in free agency, there is more flexibility when it comes time to make picks throughout the draft.
“One of the objectives of free agency was to address some of the needs on our football team with players that we liked so we can on draft day pick who we feel is the best player,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys signed free agent offensive linemen Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings to starter-worthy multiyear contracts this offseason.
“We targeted players, we evaluated players and we felt good about the guys we were pursing,” Garrett said. “We wanted to create competition within our football team. We felt like we did that, with guys that we really liked, the right kind of guys that have talent and upside, guys we think help our team now and going forward.”
Cornerback Brandon Carr was the team’s top offseason target, and the Cowboys quickly signed him to a $50 million, five-year deal that includes $26.5 million guaranteed. They also got quarterback Kyle Orton, safety Brodney Pool, linebacker Dan Connor and fullback Lawrence Vickers.
“In general, and because of how well we did in free agency, we’ll able to draft, or trade. We could easily have a situation in our best interest,” Jones said. “That free agency helps us in normally, purely looking at how we best improve the personnel on this team with the draft.”
While the Cowboys have indicated that they have no intention of trading up in the draft, there is always the chance of other deals — either involving the No. 14 pick or any of their other seven picks, including two in the fourth round that opens the final day of the draft Saturday.
It was unusual draft for Dallas last April, in what was an unusual year with the NFL lockout.
The Cowboys used only two of their eight picks on defenders in 2011. They drafted three offensive linemen, including Tyron Smith ninth overall as the first offensive lineman Jones has selected in the first round since buying the team in 1989. And for only the second time under Jones ownership, the Cowboys didn’t make any trades during the draft.
Dallas finished 8-8 last season, losing four of their last five games. The finale was a loss at the New York Giants that decided the NFC East champion and the final playoff team. The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl, and the Cowboys spent another postseason at home.
The biggest free agent the Cowboys lost was receiver Laurent Robinson, who signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract with Jacksonville. They let veteran linebackers Keith Brooking and Bradie James go, as well as longtime starting cornerback Terence Newman and guard Kyle Kosier.
Robinson caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns after being a late addition in Dallas, where he was the third receiver behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. The Cowboys obviously wanted to keep Robinson — at the right price.
“It doesn’t not fit the profile we have to look at,” Jones said. “Not only this year, but next year.”