Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys don’t have No. 1 pick and want a starter. Will they play it safe in NFL Draft?

For the Dallas Cowboys, the approach to the 2019 NFL Draft is safety first.

That is likely their motto in word and deed.

With no first-round pick, thanks to the 2018 mid-season trade the Oakland Raiders to acquire receiver Amari Cooper, the Cowboys are unlikely to get cute early on in the draft.

When the first round commences on Thursday, the Cowboys brass will be in their war room at The Star in Frisco watching Cooper highlights with no regrets.

The draft board has proven what they forecasted before making the trade last season: there’s not a player the Raiders could pick at No. 27 overall that will have the future impact that Cooper has/will have. At least that’s the hope.

The Cowboys won’t get the first of their six picks in the three-day draft until the second round on Day 2 at No. 58 overall.

And because Dallas doesn’t have a first-round pick, the Cowboys plan to resist any temptation to move back into the first round, as it would likely cost them a future first-round pick.

”There might be some players that can be difference makers up there, you might consider it, but from my perspective without that one, I’m not interested in stacking up these one-less draft days,” owner Jerry Jones said. “They’re no fun.”

Vice president Stephen Jones compared the decision to give up a first-round pick to get Cooper to the impossible task of moving a mountain.

“I don’t think there is any buyers remorse there,” Stephen Jones said. “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.”

Playing it safe also means that Cowboys will resist taking chances on players with injury or character concerns in hopes of hitting a home run in the second round, as they have been known to do in the past. They want a player that can contribute immediately and be a walk-in starter.

“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.”

Safety first for the Cowboys is not just about an attitude or motto but also an area of focus.

With their first pick coming at 58, it’s hard for the Cowboys to target a specific player or position. They are at the mercy of the teams that pick before them.

The Cowboys did a great job in free agency filling needs so they can take the best available player.

“I think there are going to be players there for us,” Stephen Jones said. “Really good football players that are going to be there at positions that you might kind of hope for. At the same time, we have said time and time again what we try to do in free agency is get it to where you don’t feel the pressure to take certain positions if something shows up there at pick in the second if we haven’t moved that we can take that player if its a first-round caliber player but not at a position that we have looked at harder than others where kind of hoped that a good player might show.”

But if the Cowboys had their druthers, being able to choose a safety at 58 would make them happy.

As Stephen Jones said, they have looked at no position harder where they kind of “hope a good player might show.”

The team brought in six safeties, the most of any position, among their top 30 pre-draft visits. The list includes Mississippi State’s Jonathan Abram, Florida’s Chancey Gardner, Boston College’s Will Harris, Washington’s Taylor Rapp, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill and Michigan State’s Khari Willis. Abram, Rapp,Thornhill and Gardner are considered Day 2 prospects who could possibly be available when the Cowboys make their first pick in the second round.

It remains a position of focus even though the Cowboys signed Geoge Iloka to a modest one-deal in free agency. It’s been one of concern since last season when the Cowboys moved 2014 first-round pick Byron Jones from safety to cornerback and began talking to the Seattle Seahawks about a trade for Earl Thomas.

The Cowboys stayed away from Thomas when free agency began because his price was too high. He eventually signed with the Baltimore Ravens. The Cowboys entertained Colts safety Clayton Geathers and former Chiefs safety Eric Berry before signing Iloka.

The team is focused on finding a replacement for Jeff Heath opposite rising free safety Xavier Woods. Heath will likely return to being a situational backup and core special teams player if the Cowboys can find an upgrade, either with Iloka or a rookie draft pick.

”I think you can always improve any position,” Stephen Jones said. “Obviously, if you look at the resources we have there in terms of money or quality of pick, it’s probably got the least amount of resources that have put toward any position on our team is the safety position. Xavier was a later pick, (Jeff) Heath was a later pick. Kavon (Frazier) was a later pick. Iloka we got him in free agency, but I wouldn’t say we broke the bank bringing him to Dallas. If a really good safety showed up we think can improve us at some point in the draft that could certainly upgrade us in terms of that particular position.”

What’s also clear is that the team seems set on investing in a position that has been neglected for far too long.

Since taking Roy Williams in the first round in 2002, Jones was the only safety taken in the first two rounds in the last 16 years.

And if truth be told, the Cowboys haven’t had a true difference maker at the position since three-time Super Bowl champion Darren Woodson retired in 2004.

“Well, I think a playmaking safety is few and far between in terms of guys who actually make plays on the ball, who are very productive in terms of tackling and that type of situation,” Stephen Jones said. “I mean they’re rare. Obviously, we’ve looked at play-making safeties and hadn’t been able to get deals done. We had one here in Darren Woodson that was special. And Roy Williams certainly was special at what he did. If you find the right player at that position then it certainly warrants not only a high pick but it can warrant a big contract. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s not a priority but at the same time you’ve got to find the guy and those guys are rare. They can be hard to find.”

Will the Cowboys finally find one in the second round in 2018? That’s where they found Woodson in 1992.

Safety first.
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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.