Dallas Cowboys: Add Linebacker to 2018 draft needs

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 19: Anthony Hitchens
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 19: Anthony Hitchens /

The Dallas Cowboys have little choice but to be looking for another stud linebacker in the 2018 NFL next April at AT&T Stadium.

Some might say that it’s a tad early for the Dallas Cowboys to be looking at college football prospects for the 2018 NFL next April. I would simply say that the scouting department in Big D is already busy plotting its long-list of needs and wants in the annual player selection meeting, which will take place at AT&T Stadium on April 26-28.

Who knows what direction the Cowboys will go at this point in time. Much will depend on how free agency goes once March arrives and then there’s still other factors that can come into play before the draft gets underway.

But I’ll make a not-so bold prediction some six months out from the festivities:

The Dallas Cowboys will be selecting at least one linebacker within their first three selections.

You herd it hear first.

The reason for this is none other than No. 50 on the current roster.

Sean Lee is every bot as good, if not better, than the Cowboys expected when they took a bit of a gamble by selecting the Penn State star in the 2010 NFL Draft many moons ago. Lee had a history of injury with the Nittany Lions.

Lee also has a lengthy history of injury with the Cowboys, most notably that torn ACL suffered before training camp ever got underway in 2014 – most recently an injured hamstring, which cost Lee the second half of Sunday’s 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

According to Marc Sessler of NFL.com, Lee is likely to miss multiple games with his latest injury, which obviously means that we won’t see Dallas’ ‘defensive quarterback’ on the field Sunday night against the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles. Just four days later, the Cowboys will line up to take on the San Diego Chargers on Thanksgiving Day.

Who knows when Lee will be back in action and for how long that will be once he does return. Hamstring injuries this time of year can be a real kiss of death where the season is concerned and this is probably the biggest threat to the Cowboys playoff chances in 2017.

This is precisely why it’s time to be thinking about life after Lee – sad, but true.

Lee will enter his ninth season in 2018 at 32 years old. He’ll also be in what could be the final year of his current contract, which could also end up going through 2019. But something tells me that this may not happen.

Yes, Lee is a good enough player to exhaust every bit of effort in trying to build a winning defense around him. But time is running short now and the combination of age, financial considerations and reliability are the reasons why. Does Lee strike you as the type of veteran that the Dallas Cowboys would offer an extension to in order to secure his services long-term while also reducing his salary cap figure?

We’re not talking about the defenses version of Jason Witten, you know?

Lee just can’t stay on the field and even despite his natural ability to play professional football’s most difficult position, I don’t see how the Cowboys could possibly feel comfortable with the idea of expecting Lee to be available for any postseason in the near future. Age will soon start to play a role in the erosion of Lee’s skills, which says nothing about that injury factor that this great player can’t seem to get beyond.

Beyond Lee, I don’t think we’ll know exactly what the Dallas Cowboys have in Jaylon Smith until next season and maybe beyond. Clear is the fact that there’s an injury history here, too.

Anthony Hitchens?

Highly underrated and perhaps the best defensive player not playing in the deep end, but also an unrestricted free agent after this season is over.

See how close to cupboard is to being void of any blue-chip talent at this all-important position?

Funny how things can change so quickly over the course of a given season. Not long ago I was pointing out how poorly the Cowboys have fared at the defensive end position. We knew nothing about how DeMarcus Lawrence would be playing in August.

There was still question marks about just how good David Irving will be, although I’ve sold on him since October of 2016 at the most recent. Randy Gregory probably never straps on a football helmet again.

Just beyond the midway point of this season, it appears that the Cowboys have a couple of young weapons on a defensive line that seemed highly limited in terms of playmakers just a matter of weeks ago – but Dallas has the ability to retain those assets after this season, and I think they will.

Next: Do the Cowboys stand a chance against the Eagles?

But linebacker is a completely different story as both the talent and numbers are soon to need a boost via the NFL draft.