<
>

Cowboys have flexibility with fourth pick in NFL draft

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys enter the draft, they have nine chances to improve their roster.

They pick at Nos. 4, 34, 67, 104, 135, 189, 212, 216 and 217 overall, and they need to find players to help a team that cratered to a 4-12 finish in 2015 but believes it is much better than the typical squad that has a top-five selection.

The Cowboys see the healthy returns of Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick, who combined to play 13 games last year, as the biggest reasons for improvement in 2016.

"The best way to build your team is through the draft," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said earlier in the offseason.

The Cowboys also believe the best way to draft is to augment the roster through free agency, but not with high-priced players. The Cowboys found help on their defensive line with Cedric Thornton and Benson Mayowa. They added running back Alfred Morris, as well.

They also re-signed their own key free agents: Rolando McClain, Morris Claiborne, James Hanna, Lance Dunbar, Kyle Wilber and Jack Crawford.

With their offseason plan, the Cowboys believe they can stick with the best player available in each around, although owner and general manager Jerry Jones said that could be tempered by positional preference.

While the Cowboys believe they will enter the draft without any "musts," they have yet to address the backup quarterback spot, their defensive line additions have 10 career sacks and they have not altered their look at cornerback. With the fourth overall pick in the first round the Cowboys can go quarterback, defensive end or cornerback.

It is likely Carson Wentz and Jared Goff will be gone by the time the Cowboys pick in the first round. That would leave Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa as their top options.

Ramsey had just three interceptions in his career and some teams see him more as a safety than a cornerback. While productive, some wonder if Bosa can be an elite defensive end.

Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil might be the best player available when the Cowboys pick, but Jones said it is "not logical" to add another first-round offensive lineman to the mix. That could open up trade-down possibilities in which the Cowboys can acquire more picks.

Most of the attention during the draft process has been on what the Cowboys will do at No. 4 overall, but they have other needs -- wide receiver, running back, linebacker and safety -- that can be addressed later.

No. 2 wide receiver Terrance Williams is a free agent at season's end. So is Darren McFadden, who ran for 1,089 yards in 2015; McClain signed just a one-year deal. Strong safety Barry Church is going into the final year of his deal, as is fellow safety J.J. Wilcox.

The Cowboys have filled holes in free agency, but some remain.

The draft is not just about 2016. It's about 2017 and beyond, as well.