Have you looked at any mock drafts lately? I agree, for the most part they’re pointless, but they do help by narrowing down the areas of need for a team. In this instance, it has largely been determined that the Dallas Cowboys have narrowed their focus to defensive end and running back.
The NFL Draft is still more than a month away, but the overwhelming majority of mock drafts have Dallas snagging either a pass rusher or another running back to offset the loss of the 2014 rushing champ, DeMarco Murray.
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But at this point, the possibilities for that No. 27 overall pick are endless due to the presence of Pro Bowl sack artist, Greg Hardy, who signed a one-year contract with Dallas last week.
Before Hardy’s signing, the prevailing wisdom stated that Dallas absolutely had to draft a pass rusher with their first-round pick. The pressure was on Dallas to find a young, elite edge rusher to pair opposite of 2014 second-round pick, DeMarcus Lawrence.
Now, if I had to guess, this Dallas front office knew very well that they weren’t going to find the level of player Hardy is with that 27th overall pick. They might have found a decent player worthy of developing, but Hardy’s 27 sacks in his last 32 games (12 in 2012 and 15 in 2013) were just too mouth-watering to pass up.
So what exactly does the Greg Hardy signing accomplish?
It takes the pressure off the early part of the draft, and/or the remainder of free agency to find someone that is as proven and polished as Hardy. Also, with his contract in place only for one season, it buys time (assuming Hardy does not return in 2016), to find and lock up DeMarcus Lawrence’s bookend pass rush buddy, whether that come through a 2016 draft pick or a veteran free-agent next offseason.
Bottom line; Hardy’s rather modest, incentive-laced contract basically protects the Cowboys from desperately needing to find an elite pass rusher in this year’s draft. Now, this doesn’t mean that Dallas will not take an edge rusher with their first pick; it just means that the rookie will not have to come in and contribute double-digit sacks in his first year in the NFL, all while living up to a first-round billing.
Kind of makes you wonder if Hardy’s deal would have gotten done with Murray still in town. If Jerry Jones’ words are any indication, probably not. Due to the constraints of the stubborn salary cap, Jones stated over the weekend that Hardy’s arrival was unlikely without letting Murray collect on his massive pay day from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Evidently, the chances were greater of replacing Murray’s 2014 production with a running back committee than finding a pass rusher of Hardy’s caliber in the draft, especially considering 26 teams were picking ahead of Dallas, eliminating any chance of a top-10 talent falling into the Cowboys’ lap.
So from now until April 30, which is the scheduled first round of the NFL draft, expect to see a limitless number of names in that 27th spot. Could still be a defensive end, perhaps a defensive tackle, cornerback, safety, running back, linebacker, and even another offensive lineman.
What about simply best player available? The possibilities are now endless.
However, with Hardy and his gaudy sack totals in town at least for 2015, one thing is certain, the pressure is off…and on.