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Wednesday, April 21, 2010
With draft freedom comes responsibility

By Tim MacMahon

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a division title and have a "redshirt class," as owner/general manager Jerry Jones calls the group of rookies that spent last season on injured reserve.

As a result, the Cowboys feel like they'll have a lot of freedom during this week's NFL draft.

"We will not be held hostage by any position," Jones said.

But the Cowboys do have several needs, some of which are significant. A rookie could emerge as their starting free safety. They need depth in the form of potential future starters at offensive tackle, guard, cornerback, inside linebacker. Wide receiver and defensive end could fall into that category as well.

Jones has indicated that it's likely the Cowboys will stay put at No. 27, but that would go against his wheelin' and dealin' nature. The only certainty for the Cowboys entering this draft is that almost anything is a possibility.

Here are 10 things to watch for from a Cowboys perspective:

  1. Will the Cowboys trade up? Jones downplayed the possibility this week, saying he couldn't see it happening. However, he hadn't had a sip of truth serum. Here's guessing you'll see Jerry working the phones as hard as he can if former Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant or Texas safety Earl Thomas are still available in the late teens.
  2. Could the Cowboys trade down? Such moves have been the trend around Valley Ranch in recent years. Jones would like to get an extra pick or two and would be willing to entertain conversations if there isn't a player high on the Dallas board available at No. 27. South Florida safety Nate Allen, Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu and Penn State inside linebacker Sean Lee are among the Valley Ranch visitors whom the Cowboys could target if they move into the early second round.
  3. Load up on offensive linemen: It'd be surprising if the Cowboys didn't pick a tackle and a guard. Jones doesn't want to keep paying big money to free-agent offensive linemen. The only way to avoid that is to draft and develop them. The Cowboys need to get a guard ready to replace Kyle Kosier, who is entering the final season of his contract.
  4. Free safety first or second? After releasing Ken Hamlin, free safety is the one position that the Cowboys aren't pretty certain about their starter. It could be Alan Ball or 2009 fifth-rounder Mike Hamlin. But odds are the Cowboys will add a premium pick to that competitive mix. They might have to make a tough call on USC's Taylor Mays, a freakish athlete whose physical style and coverage flaws lead to Roy Williams comparisons.
  5. Corner market: The Cowboys have a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks (Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins) and a solid slot man in Orlando Scandrick. Yet depth at corner is a significant concern, especially with Newman nearing his 32nd birthday. Ball, who might start at free safety, was the Cowboys' fourth corner last season. Rutgers' Devin McCourty, an excellent special teams player, would be a solid pick at No. 27.
  6. Trade a veteran? Jones acknowledged that the Cowboys have already had conversations about some of their players with other teams, which increases the odds of a deal going down on draft weekend. Martellus Bennett intrigues other teams, but it'd be surprising if the Cowboys gave up on the talented young tight end. Marcus Spears, whose grasp on the starting job at left defensive end is tenuous, might tempt a team switching to the 3-4.
  7. Inside job: Penn State's Lee tops the list of realistic prospects at a significant need position for the Cowboys. Their starters are set, but this could be Keith Brooking's last season and Bradie James is getting up there in the years. Bobby Carpenter, an adequate nickel linebacker, is entering the last year of his contract. Jason Williams, the team's top pick last year, is a phenomenal athlete who has a long way to go before the Cowboys can count on him.
  8. Deon Anderson departing? The Cowboys have been quiet about the fullback's future since he was charged with misdemeanor deadly conduct after he allegedly threatened a restaurant employee with a gun in February. Drafting a fullback in the late rounds would speak pretty loudly. Keep an eye on Kentucky's John Conner.
  9. No quarterback: Unless there's stunning value in the late rounds, the Cowboys will not draft a quarterback. They're confident in Tony Romo as the starter and Jon Kitna as the backup. They want to give Stephen McGee, a fourth-round pick last year, another season to prove whether he's a worthy developmental project.
  10. No kicker: The Cowboys will not use a draft pick on a kicker for the third time in four years. They're optimistic that David Buehler, who excelled as a rookie kickoff specialist, can develop enough to handle the field goal gig. Their backup plan is Conor Hughes, a 26-year-old who has never attempted a field goal in the NFL.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.