Dallas Cowboys: Filling roster needs beyond the draft

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys have several voids along their roster and the upcoming NFL draft will not fill all of them. So, what’s the alternative?

On top of the addition of new head coach Mike McCarthy and the revamping of the majority of his coaching staff, the Dallas Cowboys have several voids to fill along their roster heading into the 2020 NFL Draft. And that’s mainly due to an enormous exodus of veterans via free agency last month.

Gone are starters like tight end Jason Witten, defensive end Robert Quinn, cornerback Byron Jones, safety Jeff Heath, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, and wide receiver Randall Cobb. Combined with the sudden retirement of All-Pro center Travis Frederick, and the Cowboys’ starting lineup should look radically different in 2020.

A quick review of the Cowboys’ current roster reveals there isn’t a single position (outside of kicker possibly) that couldn’t use an upgrade of either a new starter or at least some quality depth additions. The largest areas of need include defensive end, wide receiver, and interior offensive line. And there could be legit arguments made at cornerback, tight end, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, linebacker, backup quarterback, and safety as well.

Yet, the bigger concern could be 2021. The vast majority of Cowboys’ defensive secondary are not under contract beyond this season. Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis plus safeties Xavier Woods and the newly-signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are all scheduled to hit free agency next year.

Remember, the Cowboys’ brass always has an eye on the future when making their roster decisions. That’s one of the reasons they’ve surprised us with high selections of players like offensive tackle Connor Williams and guard Connor McGovern in recent drafts when the unit didn’t figure to be one of their biggest needs. Following the sudden retirement of Frederick and the growing injury concerns surrounding left tackle Tyron Smith, those decisions now seem prophetic.

So the Cowboys will go into the 2020 NFL Draft later this month not just looking to fill voids currently on their roster, but to better prepare themselves for losses next year as well. Throw in a brand new coaching staff with new philosophies, schemes, and player evaluations; and it’s clear that seven draft picks alone isn’t going to be enough.

This could result in the Cowboys looking to trade back for more draft ammunition with massive contracts for players like quarterback Dak Prescott (franchise tag), wide receiver Amari Cooper, running back Ezekiel Elliott, right guard Zack Martin, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and linebacker Jaylon Smith absorbing a majority of their salary cap. In turn, that limits what the Cowboys can do in free agency.

Another area the Cowboys will need to hit a home run or two will be with undrafted free agents. In the past, Dallas has been able to find some hidden rookie gems on the open market post-draft. Players like offensive tackle La’el Collins, wideout Cole Beasley, kicker Dan Bailey, guard Ronald Leary, and tight end Blake Jarwin were all acquired as undrafted free agents.

But that area for the Cowboys has suffered in recent years. In fact, the only UDFAs still on the roster from the above list are Collins and Jarwin. Last year, there were hopes that undrafted rookie linebacker Luke Gifford could emerge as a possible gem before he suffered a fractured arm in the preseason.

So the question becomes how will the Cowboys fill their roster needs beyond the draft? Hitting on some of their undrafted free agent acquisitions to add depth to the roster would surely help. But that’s not worth banking on.

Next. Dallas Cowboys 15 top free agent signings ever. dark

Instead, I fully expect the Dallas Cowboys to resume bringing in veteran free agents on one-year, incentive-laced, team-friendly deals to fill the majority of the holes on their roster that remain after the draft.

Some of the more intriguing names I’ll be watching include veteran wideouts like Paul Richardson and Taylor Gabriel, defensive ends in Ezekiel Ansah and Dion Jordan, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, and former Cowboys in quarterback Matt Moore, tight end Geoff Swaim, and guard Ron Leary.