With pick No. 27 in the first round of the NFL Draft tonight, the Dallas Cowboys understand they are not in a position to dictate their selection or target a specific player.
But with needs at several positions — primarily running back, defensive end, defensive tackle and cornerback — the Cowboys feel good about their ability to acquire a difference-making player to improve the team and build on last year’s 12-4 record and trip to the NFC Divisional playoffs.
Given that the draft is deep in those positions, the Cowboys will have a spirit of “fungibility,” as owner Jerry Jones likes to say, fostering in their war room at the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters. Like oil or gold, the pick has the capability of mutual substitution or combinations.
Depending on who’s available and what transpires before them, the Cowboys could trade up to catch a falling star or trade down to increase their value and add picks.
“The fact that we are at 27 increases the chance we may be moving around a little bit,” Jones said. “You probably increase the chance, in my mind, of movement either down or up.
“We would like to enhance it [and picks] if the opportunity were there to do it. And there is certainly a possibility we could trade up. It is very possible for us to trade down and get a shot at a higher level of pick with a second-round pick that you don’t have or do something with our second or third.”
Moving around for a player or to add value is a draft-day right of passage for Jones. The Cowboys have made 20 draft-day trades of first-round picks since Jones became owner in 1989. The team has made 63 draft-day trades overall in those 26 drafts.
Among the players who are possibilities for the Cowboys in the first round: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks, Washington cornerback Marcus Peters and Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones or Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson.
That list does not include top-10-caliber talents such as Missouri defensive end Shane Ray and Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, who are expected to fall down the draft board because of failed drug tests.
There is also the possibility of Georgia running back Todd Gurley somehow falling into the 20s range.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys are prepared to play a little option quarterback Thursday. They could keep it. They could pitch. They could hand off or they could pass.
“I think at the end of the day we’ll sit there and take a look at it and if we don’t think we’re getting value for that pick, you look to move,” Stephen Jones said. “Or if there is a guy who is drifting down that way who we still think is a first-round type player, then you’ve got to look at going to get him. I think that is what Jerry mentioned.”
Because the Cowboys have so many needs, especially on defense, they feel good about their ability to get value as well as take the best player available. They will not have to force a position.
“At where we are picking, it’s really hard to project because we are late in each round,” Stephen Jones said. “But if you do your homework, then I think good things will happen to us.”
The Cowboys will be targeting a running back in the draft in hopes of finding a replacement for DeMarco Murray, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency.
The Cowboys have researched all the top backs in the draft, including first-round options such as Gurley, Gordon and second-day options such as Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, Miami’s Duke Johnson, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford.
They will likely take one at some point over the next few days. The second and third rounds are Friday. Rounds four through seven are Saturday.
There is the remote possibility of a trade for superstar running back Adrian Peterson, who said as late as Tuesday that he wants to play for the Cowboys. He is still a member of the Minnesota Vikings, and they maintain they have no interest in trading him.
Offense aside, the Cowboys’ defense has been the team’s weak link for the past few years.
“I would say we do need to help the defense as a must, by hook or crook,” Jerry Jones said.
By hook or crook is the idea that one of those talented pass rushers fall to the Cowboys and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who has let it be known that he wants help for his unit.
“He’s just as honest a guy as I’ve ever been around,” coach Jason Garrett said of Marinelli. “He is very direct. Rod wants us to draft defensive players. We’ll try to do that come this weekend.”
The Cowboys came into the off-season needing help on the defensive front, but cornerback has suddenly become a high priority.
Orlando Scandrick, the team’s best cornerback, is holding out from the off-season program in a contract dispute. Brandon Carr is being asked to take a pay cut or be cut. And Morris Claiborne, the disappointing 2012 first-round pick, finished last season on injured reserve and is not guaranteed to be ready for training camp.
“I think improving our defense all the way around is important,” Stephen Jones said. “At the same time you’ve got to do your homework and not reach for something and and push for something that is not there.
“Ultimately, we will get in a position and a situation and have a good group of guys in each position.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760
The Cowboys select ...
With their 12-4 finish and NFC Divisional playoff appearance last season, the Dallas Cowboys own the 27th selection in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The club has one selection in each of the first five rounds and two selections in the seventh round:
27th (27 overall)
None. Traded to Baltimore for Rolando McClain.
19th pick (236) from San Diego for Sean Lissemore and 26th pick (243) from Baltimore.