The Dallas Cowboys are facing an enormous amount of pressure to deliver in this week's NFL draft. But that's what happens when you produce back-to-back 8-8 seasons and fail to address any of your needs in free agency. Ah yes, football is officially back!!
Most people consider free agency the official gateway to the offseason, but I look at it more as a chance for teams to change their oil and do maintenance. The phenomenon of the draft combined with the endless amount of coverage and analysis is what real football fans live for.
The Cowboys are looking to build on their recent improvement in the drafting department, although the unpredictability of Jerry Jones is still reason to stock your liquor cabinets. With so many needs to fill, it would be hard to imagine the Cowboys moving up like last year to target their man, but anything is possible.
Sometimes the days building up to the draft are more exciting than the event itself, but getting to the core of any truths seems to be difficult. With the draft just a mere few days away, let's see if we can wrap our brains around the cyclone of information and capture the latest buzz.
The Offensive Line
It's no secret that the Cowboys need to upgrade their offensive line in a hurry. Not only will this allow them to better protect Tony Romo, but it will also improve last season's 31st-ranked rushing attack. While Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper remain potential targets, the reality of those prospects being available seems to be quite bleak.
According to multiple sources that include Jason LaConfora, Adam Schefter and Stephen Jones, the Cowboys remain interested in the duo of Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo. This would significantly impact the draft as it could mean the end of Doug Free and the opening of cap space, while also providing some insurance and setting up draft flexibility.
By signing Winston, the Cowboys could select an offensive lineman in the second round should Warmack and Cooper be off the board before the 18th pick. At that point things could get interesting.
Is Wide Receiver A Want or A Need?
The Cowboys have had some rather interesting pre-draft visits from wide receivers such as Baylor's Terrance Williams and Oregon State's Marcus Wheaton. Could this be more than just covering bases or do the Cowboys have this position targeted? Both players could easily be taken within the first three rounds and it does have to make you kind of wonder what they might be thinking.
Receiver isn't the most pressing of needs, but Miles Austin still is a health concern and Dez Bryant will face a healthy diet of extra attention his way. I wouldn't view this as a slight to Dwayne Harris or Cole Beasley, but maybe the Cowboys just want to stack the deck and develop another weapon in this pass-happy league.
The Visits Are Telling A Story
Historically, the Cowboys tend to select players that are tied to their visits, and this year should be no different. The Cowboys have compiled a solid list of pre-draft visitors, and it should help fill in the blanks just a little by noticing how offensive line, safety, defensive line and running back contain the most prospects. This is telling me that the Cowboys might truly have a grasp on their priorities.
I especially like how the range of safety prospects spans from the first to the sixth and seventh-rounds and they've got some top offensive linemen targeted. Players like Kenny Vaccaro, Warmack, Cooper and Sheldon Richardson are household names, but it's interesting to see J.J. Wilcox, Phillip Thomas, Travis Frederick and Justin Pugh on the list.
The Cowboys are doing their homework.
Potential Trade Partners
The Cowboys will have to let the draft dictate a lot in order to maximize their picks. There is no guarantee that Warmack or Cooper will be there at No. 18, and that could leave this team in a rather precarious position. Do they take Vaccaro? Richardson? A Sylvester Williams? Some other falling talent?
Ultimately, only Jerry Jones and the brain trust know that answer, but there are some teams looking to move up in this draft and that could provide some clarity should the Cowboys become confused. Teams like the Falcons are looking to possibly move up, as well as the 49ers, and that could mean extra picks and more opportunities for the Cowboys.
The 49ers represent an interesting situation because they possess a cache of picks that could mean a world of difference for the Cowboys should they entertain the notion of moving down. I wouldn't rule this out for one second as a good percentage of these scenarios happen on draft night and are often dictated by the twists and turns of the draft.
Moving down and picking up a combination that includes extra picks between the second and fourth-rounds might not be a bad thing for this team.
In fact, they should have this firmly on their radar. Every advantage could mean the difference in 2013.