March 12 is the opening of free agency and thus the beginning of the next NFL year.
The Cowboys have a lot to work to do.
Thrifty spending will be key as Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray all have contracts that expire in the next two years.
Thanks to the restructuring of contracts, the Cowboys can be players in free agency again, and the NFL draft is tailor-made for the Cowboys’ positional needs.
Let's take a look at what a perfect offseason would look like in Dallas.
Donald Thomas is the most underrated offensive lineman in this free-agent market. He won’t command top-tier money, but he still possesses the ability of an above-average starter at right guard.
The Cowboys have saved money this offseason by restructuring the contracts of some of their highly paid stars and will be able to make some moves in free agency. However, just because you have money doesn’t mean you need to spend it.
Thomas would offer an immediate upgrade starting at right guard and could be had for a five-year, $16 million deal. He’s an affordable option.
Thomas is a mildly athletic and strong guard who has experience starting in the NFL. He has been learning in a successful Patriots system and is ready to contribute regularly to an NFL team.
The Cowboys would find this to be one of the smartest and most beneficial deals they could make.
While I believe the Cowboys are going to continue with a youth movement, a guy like Israel Odonije, who is 32 years old, is a productive veteran who could aid in the transition to the Tampa 2 defense.
I strongly believe that Tyrone Crawford is the future at strong defensive end for the Cowboys. Odonije is a guy who wouldn’t be expected to start, but he can play play both end and tackle and help these young guys learn Rod Marinelli’s techniques.
Odonije is a hard-working guy who will leave it all out on the field. The Cowboys will want at least one more veteran to help rotate on the defensive line. That he's versatile is a great help, but his affordable price tag and experience are the selling factors.
Odonije can likely be had for a two-year, $4.5 million contract, which is really pennies on the dollar compared to the other linemen available.
Ernie Sims has earned a spot on this team. He came in last season in a time of need for the Cowboys and played exceptionally well.
Sims is the type of guy who can be productive wherever you play him. The Cowboys could re-sign him inexpensively and have him compete at Sam linebacker and at least be a rotational depth guy at every position.
Sims is a hard worker whom everyone loves. He has great athleticism and can diagnose plays well. He rarely overpursues and has a nose for the ball.
The Cowboys will have some depth issues, and Sims can do it all. Even if he mainly contributes on special teams, he’ll be worth the investment.
Mackenzy Bernadeau was a flop at guard. He was the worst Cowboys lineman behind Doug Free.
However, when Bernadeau played center, it seemed like something clicked. While I believe that the Cowboys aren’t hurting for centers as some would say, I think Bernadeau could become the best center on the roster.
Bernadeau isn’t a bad lineman, but he gets confused easily and sometimes had trouble figuring out his assignment. I think he could sit at center and hold the middle of the pocket well. He’s a big, strong guy who had flawed technique as a guard, but he could use his body and arms to excel in the middle.
Moving Bernadeau to center might not be a save-all, but it’s an option the Cowboys must explore before dubbing him a bust.
Kenny Vaccaro is easily the best safety in this class, and it isn’t even close. Some would even argue that he’s better than Mark Barron, who went in the Top 10 in the 2012 NFL draft.
Vaccaro has an elite skill set. He is a sure tackler who understands angles and can deliver a big hit if needed. Additionally, he’s a rangy guy who has freak athletic ability and can be trusted in coverage in deep zones.
His physicality and rare coverage skills make him a guy who can play either safety position in the Tampa 2.
Vaccaro is simply a star player in this draft—and he's getting overlooked. He has everything you look for in a franchise safety, and the Cowboys will be lucky if he is still available when they pick 18th in the first round.
Sylvester Williams is exactly the player the Cowboys need right here. He’s 6’3”, 313 pounds, and he projects as a guy who can play both the 1 and 3 techniques.
Williams is an explosive player who moves exceptionally well for a big guy. He isn’t the elite player that Sheldon Richardson is, but his ability to play both defensive tackle positions alongside Jay Ratliff will create nightmares for offensive lines.
Williams is meant for the Tampa 2 defense. He gets up the field quickly and controls the point of attack. By drafting him here, the Cowboys will have solidified their interior defensive line for the foreseeable future.
Fact: Andre Ellington is a small running back at 5’9” and 199 pounds.
Fiction: Andre Ellington is not a three-down back in the NFL.
Ellington may be small, and a tweaked hamstring may have hindered his NFL combine workout. But make no mistake, Ellington is a baller in every sense of the word.
The Cowboys are in the market for a “scat” back who can play all three downs. Ellington fits that mold perfectly.
When healthy, Ellington runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and has blazing straight-line speed. He has great vision and is explosive through the hole. He’s also capable in pass protection and is a legitimate threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
Ellington is the perfect complement to DeMarco Murray. But he could also serve as a replacement for him with the right opportunity.
This is a great pick.
David Quessenberry opened eyes at the Senior Bowl. His stock took a temporary climb to the second or third round, but he seems to have settled in as a fourth-round pick.
Quessenberry isn’t an elite blocker in any specific scheme, but he’s a capable one in every scheme. He knows what he’s doing. He has good technique and makes good use of his hands.
Another thing to love about Quessenberry is his versatility. While he projects best as an offensive guard, he has the most experience playing tackle.
His strength and athleticism make him a guy to watch. He could start immediately but will likely play the swing lineman role and get some developmental time.
The selection of Quessenberry gives the Cowboys excellent depth on the offensive line and a future starter.
Look, the Cowboys need to draft a quarterback. Not because Tony Romo needs to be replaced, but because they need to start planning for the future. Matt Scott is a developmental guy who has upside at a good value spot.
Scott is an athletic guy player with good arm strength and a solid pocket presence. His quick release and ability to escape pressure allows him to fit in perfectly with the offense the Cowboys run. Basically, Scott is the most Romo-like prospect available.
Scott needs to work on his accuracy and footwork, but the talent is there. You can’t deny the potential of a player like Scott, who is a favorite sleeper target among draftniks.
In the sixth round, the Cowboys will be looking for someone who projects as a decently productive player who has something elite about him. In Kruger’s case, it’s his size.
He is 6’6” and 270 pounds. He runs a 4.8 40-yard dash and has exceptional strength. From what I’ve seen, he’s explosive off the line, has good power-rush moves and a nonstop motor.
Kruger isn’t without a major weakness—he plays stiff at times and can have trouble shedding blocks.
He projects as a productive rotational guy who can develop under Marinelli. He has the potential to blossom into a starter. Expectations won’t be overwhelming, which will give him time to get comfortable within the scheme.
Bruce Taylor, SILB, Virginia Tech
Taylor is an athletic linebacker who had a career plagued by injury. He can be a dominant guy if he can get healthy and add bulk. He’ll be worth watching and could end up being a steal.
Phillip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn
Lutzenkirchen is a dominant blocking tight end who has proven to be a reliable target in the red zone. He could be a good fit in Dallas, which will be looking to have tough tight ends who can be weapons in play action and open up the running game.
Graham Pocic, OC, Illinois
Pocic is a decent center who was once considered a fourth-round prospect. Centers just don’t get drafted early, but Pocic is good enough to at least make a team. The Cowboys may have a need at the position. Bringing in Pocic is at least worth an inexpensive look.