Cowboys Debate Camp: Draft Priorities Vs. FA Frenzy - Starting With McClain To Redskins

In terms of draft strategy, which position group will be more influenced by what the Cowboys do in free agency — the defensive line (where Terrell McClain is leaving for the Redskins) or the secondary?

In terms of the Free Agents vs. Draft debate, this Bryan Broaddus view may be ... everything:

Let's dig in ...

Matt Galatzan: That’s a tough one, but ultimately I think the Cowboys are more comfortable with their situation in the secondary than on the defensive line. ... especially with the news that Terrell McClain is getting four years and $21 million to go to Washington. Moreover, I believe that there is far more talent available in free agency at the corner position for them to explore.

Trumaine Johnson, Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Prince Amukamara, Stephon Gilmore and Captain Munnerlyn are just some of the names that are available out there for the Cowboys to explore at corner in this free agency cycle. They can also chase safeties, with names like Chris Conte and Nate Allen out there as well.

Not only that, but they will also have the chance to re-sign both Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne at the corner position, as well as Barry Church at safety (though it’s looking like Church is headed for parts not connected to Dallas).

Based on those assertions, I think Dallas should focus their efforts in the NFL Draft this spring on finding a couple of pass rushers, starting in the first round. They have a solid foundation on the defensive line, but need to find that dominant pass rusher that teams need to get over the top.

David Irving (signed on for another year now) was a great surprise last year, but he is not that guy. DeMarcus Lawrence is also very talented, but I have a hard time seeing him as the linchpin of a defense. They need to find someone who can have the same impact on a defense that Vic Beasley, Von Miller, or Khalil Mack have on their teams, and considering the free agent market, they will have to do that through the draft.

Guys like Takk McKinley, Carl Lawson, Charles Harris, and Taco Charlton are just a few edge rushers who Dallas could take a look at in the first round. (Our latest Mock-Draft Muncher is here.) McKinley and Lawson are guys who are really intriguing and could make an instant impact. They could also take a look at defensive tackle, and look at Chris Wormely, Elijah Qualls, Carlos Watkins or Charles Walker later in the draft.

What I’m trying to say here, in my own roundabout way, is that there is potentially far more talent in this year’s draft along the defensive line than in free agency. And, I believe that because of that lack of talent available in free agency Dallas must address there needs through the draft, beginning in round one.

Matthew Postins: Matt G. makes good points about the defensive line, but since he took that position group on, I’ll take on the secondary and, frankly, you could make the argument that it might quickly become a higher priority.

The Jacksonville Jaguars reportedly are ready to make safety Barry Church a rich man. Can’t blame them or him. The Jags have money, he’s one of the best safeties on the market and he basically has one more shot to cash in. But if that comes to pass the Cowboys will have three safeties under contract — Byron Jones, Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier. Jones is a fine player and could be ready to take a step toward a Pro Bowl in 2017. But no one should confuse Heath or Frazier with Church, or even J.J. Wilcox, the other safety ready to hit the market.

Wilcox would cost any team a lot less (Tampa?), but do the Cowboys see him as a priority? That’s a good question. His play has been spotty, in my opinion, but lately the Cowboys have done a good job of keeping their draft picks. But losing Church is huge. I don’t think Heath, Frazier or Wilcox is ready to fill those shoes.

Likewise, the cornerback position could get decimated quickly. Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown and Leon McFadden are under contract. But Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are not and both hit the market with the opportunity to make some money. Carr comes with some age concerns (he’s 30 years old), but he’s good enough to command solid money and contract time (3-4 years) if a team likes what they saw last season. How much do the Cowboys really want to commit to him? Same goes for Claiborne, who had a solid half-season before he got hurt. The injury risk makes it more likely Claiborne can be had for cheap. But he’s never been a perfect fit for the scheme defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants to run, and Claiborne might see this as a good time to get some security with a team willing to give him a chance.

So Matt G. made the point the Cowboys are probably comfortable with their situation in the secondary. I’ll parse that a bit. I think they’re comfortable with their higher-end talent. I don’t think they’re comfortable with depth, and in a worst-case scenario losing Church, Wilcox, Carr and Claiborne would decimate the entire unit. That’s one thing the defensive line has on the secondary in a worst-case scenario — depth.

So, to me, if the Cowboys lose at least three of those free agents in the secondary it changes their draft strategy a bit. They may have to lean a bit more toward the secondary.

Matt G. pointed out the free agents in the secondary — cornerback Trumaine Johnson, Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Prince Amukamara, Stephon Gilmore and Captain Munnerlyn and safeties Chris Conte and Nate Allen out there as well. To me, the hard part is the money. Many of these guys are in their late 20s and chasing that one, final deal that’s lucrative enough to get them to retirement, and I’m not sure the Cowboys are willing, even with the cap space at their disposal, to hand out a deal that’s two-thirds of what they paid Carr a few years ago.

The Cowboys could be holding the bag if their strategy at secondary falls through. If so, there is a piece of good news. This draft at secondary is pretty deep, deep enough to where the Cowboys don’t have to pay a first-round pick to get an impact player. I could see corners like UCLA’s Fabian Moreau, Colorado’s Chidobe Awizie, USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton and Ohio State’s Gareon Conley all falling into the second round. Any of them would provide an immediate boost to the secondary and give the Cowboys controlled costs for four years. And at safety? Well there’s Alabama’s Eddie Jackson and North Carolina State’s Josh Jones on the strong side, and Iowa’s Desmond King, Washington’s Budda Baker and Utah’s Marcus Williams on the weak side. I saw Awizie, Adoree Jackson, Eddie Jackson and Williams all play last year in person. I’d take any of them in the second round.

So, I think free agency -- full of big names (see Jordan Ross' marvelous goodbye to Tony Romo here) but also occupied by little names that Dallas probably won't get -- is going to force the Cowboys to re-evaluate where they are in the secondary by mid-April and put them in a situation where they have to spend at least one high pick on a defensive back that’s going to play a solid role in 2017.

What do you think? Hit the message boards or hit up Matt G at @MattGalatzan or Matthew P. at @PostinsPostcard on Twitter.

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