Cowboys holding cards close to the vest as draft day nears

Jerry Jones uttered at least two truths Monday. At the beginning of the team’s NFL-mandated pre-draft press conference, the Dallas Cowboys owner said it would be short with no meat.

“We’ve got anybody here that can answer the questions, but you know as well I do they’re going to be soft answers coming to you,” Jones said.

Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones, coach Jason Garrett and assistant director of player personnel Tom Ciskowski took 10 questions in a session that lasted only 23 minutes.

The Cowboys draft 18th, so they have no idea who is going to be available when their turn comes Thursday night. It seems likely the top offensive guards — Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper — will be off the board before the Cowboys’ selection. Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro could be gone, and the pool of safeties is deep enough that the Cowboys might be able to wait until the second round for one even if Vaccaro is available.

Many mock drafts have the Cowboys selecting a defensive tackle — Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson or North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams — with their first choice. But the Cowboys said they will stay true to their draft board by taking the best player available regardless of position.

“You certainly have team needs,” Garrett said. “Every team in the league has needs that they think are more pressing than others throughout their roster. But what we try to do is try to be as pure as we can be come draft day and try to pick the best players.

“It’s a cliché thing to say, but you really try to be as disciplined as you can on draft day and over the course of the three days of the draft to do that, because I think, by nature, if you draft too much for need, I think your team by definition gets worse. So you are trying to draft the best players you can, but we certainly have a number of different areas we want to improve on our team — either address the situation or create competition.”

The Cowboys drafted heavily on the defensive side of the ball last year. They moved up from No. 14 to No. 6 to take cornerback Morris Claiborne, the top-rated defensive player on their draft board, and then selected defensive end Tyrone Crawford in the third round, linebacker Kyle Wilber in the fourth and safety Matt Johnson in the fourth. In all, they used five of seven picks on defensive players.

The Cowboys, though, are switching back to the 4-3 defense, the scheme used for all but eight years of the franchise’s existence, after giving up the most yards in team history and firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Dallas signed linebacker Justin Durant and safety Will Allen in free agency, prompting Jerry Jones to proclaim that he is comfortable with the talent on that side of the ball.

“I’d say that our defensive scheme is influencing to some degree the kind of safeties or the kind of linemen, especially, that we’re looking at,” Jones said. “The good news is we really are in good shape over on the defensive side of the ball where that scheme is.”

Since Jones bought the team in 1989, he has executed 59 draft-day trades. Only six times — 1989, ’98, ’03, ’05, ’06 and ’11 — has he stood pat in the first round.

The Cowboys, with only six picks this year, appear more likely to trade down than up.

“At critical positions, we all know that your line, your rushers, your corners — all of those premium positions — there are a lot of players in this year’s draft,” Jerry Jones said. “Not to just be arm-waving, but there’s a lot of depth there, so that would lend itself to trades. Can you get enamored with a specific player? Of course you can. And so that may mean it’s worth some picks to go up there and get him. I’m inclined to trading down, and that’s probably more likely to see something like that than you would up.”

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