Position preference could trump best player for Cowboys in draft

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- In the past two weeks the Dallas Cowboys have signed a linebacker, a defensive tackle, a cornerback, two running backs, a defensive end, and a tight end, and could have another deal with a cornerback pending.

The needs they entered free agency with have been filled, albeit not with the highest-profile names and resumes, but to owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the Cowboys can go with the best player available in the draft.

Well, sort of.

With the fourth overall pick, the Cowboys could have the best quarterback or two (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz), the best defensive back (Jalen Ramsey) or the best defensive end (Joey Bosa) available to choose from.

“Now we might have issues as best players or position preference,” Jones said from the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. “You could have some position preference in the draft. Well, you might say it looks to me like you are trying to fill a need right now, too. Well those position preferences are probably areas of quarterback, pressure player and corner. You might go a position preference over one that's higher on the board. You might do that.”

Many will hate Jones saying that, believing you always take the best player on the board even if draft processes are never black and white. In 2014, the Cowboys passed up a higher player on their draft board (Johnny Manziel) to take Zack Martin with the 16th overall pick.

Martin has made the Pro Bowl the first two years and Manziel is out of football.

“I don’t think we have to draft a cornerback,” Jones said. “I don't think we have to draft a pressure player. The reason you don't have to draft a pressure player early is because of depth. There is depth in the defensive line.”

Depth is a nice way of saying the Cowboys don’t have an A-rated pass-rusher, which Jones acknowledged. They signed restricted free agent Benson Mayowa, who has two career sacks. They have not spoken to Greg Hardy’s agent about a possible return, although Jones wouldn’t completely close the door. They also have Jack Crawford and Jeremy Mincey as unrestricted free agents. DeMarcus Lawrence had eight sacks last year but is coming off back surgery. Randy Gregory will miss the first four games in 2016 because of a suspension.

“There is depth there,” Jones said. “Now the question is whether there is anybody there that is the pressure player without issues. That's a question in terms of a decision.”

At the combine, Jones said it would be unlikely the Cowboys would take a quarterback with the fourth overall pick. They plan to work out most of the top quarterbacks available privately, although having spent a week with Carson Wentz at the Senior Bowl it might not be necessary to work him out.

A month after the combine, what are Jones’ thoughts on drafting a quarterback now?

“I would say that we are not pointing toward the quarterback position,” he said. “I wouldn't want to rule out and sound like I’m hedging. But like I said early if we got an opportunity to really get the best player, it’s not that there is not a need for us for a young future quarterback. But what I did say is the future will be made with the idea in mind that Romo is going to be the quarterback for four or five years. That begs a lot of consideration in terms of what should you be doing with draft picks as opposed to a backup quarterback.”

Considering Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, the offensive line and the addition of Alfred Morris to Darren McFadden, the Cowboys could emphasize defense in this draft, which Jones believes marries to what will be available.

“The draft is better defensively than it is offensively in general,” Jones said. “The talent in the draft has a preference on defense. No. 2, just as sure as you say that, a tremendous opportunity comes on the other side of the ball that you pick. Again I think we have the flexibility. If something really inordinate happens, I think we are good enough and can get good enough with what we do on defense. If we have opportunities on the other side of the ball, we can hem them in and play some defense and work around the fact that we didn’t take that defensive player.”