The Cowboys approach the 2011 NFL Draft with a lot on the line. They pick ninth, the result of a disastrous first half that saw Wade Phillips lose his job and Jason Garrett take his first steps as a head coach. The NFL is locked in a labor battle that eliminates a key offseason for a new coaching staff and will dramatically alter player movement once teams can sign players again. The one constant is the draft.
Dallas knows what they have in the draft. They pick No. 9 in the first round and have a pick in every round thereafter, with an extra one at the very end of the seventh as compensation for free agent losses. Drafting well will give them a major advantage heading into the uncertain summer. Drafting poorly means that a roster in transition with limited opportunities in free agency will lack solutions.
As Clarence Hill notes, the Cowboys haven't come out of the last three drafts with enough talent.
Total picks: 24
2010 starters: 3
2010 backups: 13
On other teams: 4
Out of NFL: 3
Injured reserve/PUP: 1
There is potential for some of those backups to still become starters, but three 2010 starters is not enough from three entire drafts.
It will be Jason Garrett's first draft in charge. He and Jerry Jones will have to find their draft room chemistry quickly, but a long past of familiarity should help that process. For his part Garrett says that they have several alternatives.
"If you go across our roster, you could say, 'Hey, they could get better here, they could get better here, they could get better here,' " Garrett said during the NFL owners' meetings earlier this offseason. "What we need to do is try to figure out who allows us to do that, and there are a lot of different areas we can do that."
Dallas needs help in the offensive line, but statistically the Cowboys were terrible defensively in 2010. They have three free agents at defensive end and age at inside linebacker and in the defensive secondary. Mike Mayock thinks that they can go offensive tackle in the second round and that they could go corner (Prince Amukamara) or defensive end in the first round.