Dallas Cowboys

No regrets about Cooper trade, but looming megadeals mean Cowboys must draft well

The Dallas Cowboys are admittedly feeling some kind of way about not having a first-round pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft.

Thanks to a 2018 mid-season trade with the Oakland Raiders for receiver Amari Cooper, the Cowboys will sit out the opening day of the draft on April 25.

Their first pick will come in the second round, 58th overall, on Friday when the second and third rounds are conducted.

But while it’s an empty feeling that the Cowboys once promised never to experience again, owner Jerry Jones and vice president Stephen Jones said they have no regrets about acquiring Cooper.

There is no player, especially a receiver, whom the Cowboys could have taken with the 27th pick, that Oakland now owns, who compares to what they have in Cooper.

“I don’t think there is any buyers remorse there,” Stephen Jones said at the team’s pre-draft press conference at The Star in Frisco on Tuesday. “I think we are really pleased we made that move. But as Jerry said it’s painful to go through a draft without a No. 1 pick. We have looked at each other before and said we would never do that again. But certainly, after we have gone through the receivers and looked at that. I think we are very happy with where we have ended up in terms of what we could get at our pick in terms of a receiver or any other player in terms of what we ended up with with Amari.”

Here are four other things were learned from the Cowboys on Tuesday:

1. The looming deals for quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver Amari Cooper and possibly running back Ezekiel Elliott in the coming year to go along with $105 million contract extension recently given to defensive DeMarcus Lawrence makes it even more important for the Cowboys to continue to draft well.

With those players taking up the majority of the salary cap, the bulk of the team will be filled with first or second-year players, save for bargain basement veterans on one year deal sprinkled in.

“As we start to get into this world of having some really high-priced players, well-deserved albeit, but as we start to have these bigger contracts, then we are going to have to have these draft classes step up because there’s going to be situations where we can’t sign them all,” Stephen Jones said. “We want to do everything we can to manage it. We think we’ve got a great plan in terms of how we’re going to move forward to optimize this particular roster. We think it’s a young roster that has the potential to win championships. But we have to manage it in a good way. I think we have a great plan. But part of that plan is to have young players come in here that can play and contribute. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve done a good job of that over the past four, five, six years.

“It’s very important that we have success there. Obviously, it’s also very important that we have success, albeit we’re not playing the big contracts. But some of these deals we do out here in free agency, one-year deals, lesser type deals, that we have success with those guys as well. We certainly feel good about the guys that we’ve signed and think they can step in and contribute. And we all know about the compensatory system. If you do sign guys to one year and then they have success here and they go out and they sign bigger contracts somewhere else, that can make significant compensatory picks for us, which in turn that has to translate into good, young football players for us.”

2. The Cowboys maintained that the recent contract signed by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has not increased the sense of urgency to get a deal done with Prescott to offset the rising market for the position.

Wilson is now the league’s highest-paid player with a deal that pays him $140 over four years, averaging $35 million a season. It has increased the franchise tag for quarterbacks to $30.8 million with that number possibly rising with deals for Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Los Angeles’ Jared Goff to come.

“No, I don’t think so,” Stephen Jones said. “I mean, Russell deserves to be paid at that level in my opinion. He’s won Super Bowls. He has had success year in and year out. His numbers are really good. He’s a competitor. His teams win. As I said, he’s wearing a Super Bowl ring. The guy deserves to be paid at the top of the market and I don’t think it was huge in terms of how much he beat [Aaron] Rodgers. No. And, so, I don’t feel any pressure to rush the situation. This is an important contract for Dak. It’s an important contract for our organization. We have to get it right, and I feel like we’ll do that.”

3. The Cowboys believe they will get a good player at No. 58. But they acknowledge not having a No. 1 pick means it is less likely they will trade back into the first round and give up a future first-round pick. It also means they are likely to take a chance on a player with question marks in the second round as they have done in the past.

“I’d say you couldn’t answer that because you never know when you might have the circumstances,” owner Jerry Jones said. “There might be some players that can be difference makers up there, you might consider it, but from my perspective without that one, I don’t know about you (looking at Stephen), I’m not interested in stacking up these one-less draft days. They’re no fun.”

Linebackers Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith are examples of first-round talents who the Cowboys nabbed in the second round because of injury concerns. Defensive end Randy Gregory fell to the second round because of failed drug tests.

The Cowboys need an immediate contributor in the second round so there will be no funny business at 58.

“I think you’re operating without a net a little bit, by not being able to have made with that first round someone you hope gives you a contribution in the first year,” Jerry Jones said. “If you start going into the second pick with a real question mark as to this coming year’s contribution, I think logic would dictate for me slowing down a little bit there.”

4. Stephen Jones said the Cowboys have not begun negotiations with running back Ezekiel Elliott on a contract extension as they have with the representatives for Prescott and Cooper.

Elliott, who has led the league in rushing twice since joining the Cowboys as the fourth overall pick in 2016, wants a new deal and the Cowboys say they will give him one at some point.

But Elliott is under contract for one more year and Jones said the team plans to pick up the fifth-year option on his deal for 2020, keeping him under the team’s control for two more years.

”I don’t think it’s significant in terms of when we do it, as long as we get it done and it will get done,” Stephen Jones said. “I’m sure we’ll send it in two-to-three days ahead of time, just to make sure there are no problems. Obviously, we’re going to do it.”

It’s no secret that the Cowboys plan to upgrade the depth at running back behind Elliott, either through the draft or free agency.

But don’t look for the Cowboys to use their second round pick on a runner, or even a third. The pick is too rich to use on a backup player and the Cowboys have no plans of taking Elliott off the field.

“It’s certainly a rich pick,” Stephen Jones said. “You hope you’re drafting, there in the second round, a plug-in starter. That’s what you hope to do. It doesn’t always work out that way, but you’re hoping to find a player there in the second round that can step in and make a big difference. We all know, if Zeke’s healthy, there’s not going to be a whole lot of touches going to that player. At the same time, you never know when you’re going to need a player like that if Zeke were to miss a game. We’ve been fortunate with a player like Emmitt Smith who seemed to always be available. And Zeke, barring an incident, obviously has been a guy who’s very dependable and we can count on him.”

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.