Cowboys Focus Clear: The Draft

Coming off a 6-10 record in 2004 and a lackluster 31-49 mark over the last five years combined, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones promised whole sale offseason changes to put a winner on the field in 2005. <BR>

Boy has he ever delivered.

The coaching staff has been revamped with three new additions. The Cowboys then spent $30 million in signing bonus money to add four starters in free agency, including quarterback Drew Henson, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson, cornerback Anthony Henry and guard Marco Rivera.

So what's the last order of business? They still need to make a big splash in the NFL Draft to finish the job.

Dallas has eight picks in the draft this year, led by two in the first round -- No. 11 and No. 20. Jones believes the Cowboys have the opportunity to land several impact players to not only help make the Cowboys bona fide contenders in 2005 but also be cornerstone players for the future.

In process of selecting these new players, the Cowboys must overcome their own dubious draft history -- consider that the team has no players on the roster from the 2000 and 2001 drafts combined -- and formulate a successful strategy for 2005.

The biggest need for the Cowboys is a pressure player on defense. That means they will look to take a defensive end or linebacker with the 11th overall pick.

Other options at No. 11 include Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson, Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman, Troy defensive end Demarcus Ware and Wisconsin defensive end Erasmus James.

Of course, that's if they don't trade for Saints defensive end Darren Howard and if they stand pat, which is not a given.

"We've certainly been interested," said Jones. "But there was always another major issue, and that's negotiating a contract with him."

Jones also said the Cowboys would like to turn their two first round picks into three cornerstones, which means they will be looking to trade down at either 11 or 20 to acquire more picks.

"The 11th pick is a good place to be. I don't want to rule out at all, an opportunity that if a key player drops down, and we can move down and pick up another pick on the first day. Because its a mixed bag up there, you may be more inclined to do that," said Jones.

Considering the Cowboys have needs across the board -- defensive end, linebacker, offensive tackle, safety and wide receiver -- they will look to take the best available athlete regardless of position. The Cowboys are likely leaning toward Merriman or Ware at No. 11 if they stay there because both have the versatility to play linebacker in the 3-4 and end in the 4-3.

What's certain is that owner Jerry Jones likes the spot the Cowboys are in. He likes the players that might be available and he likes opportunities that could arise for potential trades. He said the Cowboys would trade down if the right opportunity came along because they would like to acquire additional picks.

With their second pick in the first round, the Cowboys could go for deep threat at receiver, Roddy White or Troy Williamson. They also could trade down with this pick to add extra picks in the second or third round. The Cowboys don't have a third round pick because of last season's trade with the Texans for quarterback Drew Henson.

"Our two number one picks create opportunity," added Jones. "This is the best offseason of opportunity I can remember having all these tools to reshape our team. We could be a really different team than how we ended the season with the Giants."

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