Best Player Available the Name of the Game

The goal every year is to take the best available athlete in the draft.

Of course some years that works better than others because obvious needs have to be filled.

After an aggressive approach to free agency in which the Cowboys filled all of their glaring needs with a whopping eight acquisitions, owner Jerry Jones said taking the best available athlete will be the focus of the 2006 draft, set for April 29-30.

The Cowboys entered the offseason with questions along the offensive line, tight end, wide receiver, linebacker and safety.

The laundry list of signees, led by receiver Terrell Owens, addressed all those issues. The other free agents were guard Kyle Kosier, tackle Jason Fabini, tight end Ryan Hannam, linebackers Akin Ayodele and Rocky Boiman and safety Marcus Coleman.

They can still add players at any of those positions in the draft and will probably still target a couple but free agent activity means they are not pressed to fill a need at a certain one.

However, what you can look for, according to Jones, is for the Cowboys to address the defensive side of the ball with their 18th overall pick in the first round.

Based on how the draft is set up and the huge strides the Cowboys made in improving the offense in the free agency, Dallas can gain the most from going heavy on defense in this draft.

"When I look at this year and free agency, I think that free agency has helped our offense appreciably," Jones said. "We're not going to be able to make that kind of difference in a draft offensively, in my mind. We may be able to, in the draft, help ourselves defensively, right now."

Among the names being considered for the 18th overall pick are North Carolina State linebacker Manny Lawson, Tennessee safety Jason Allen, Ohio State safety Donte Whitner and Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter.

However, don't expect the Cowboys to stand pat as Jones said there is a great possibility for them to move around in the draft.

It's more likely they will move down in an effort to pick up another pick because the Cowboys don't have a fourth round pick due to last year's draft day trade with the Eagles that allowed them to choose defensive end Chris Canty.

The Cowboys would only move up in the first round if one of the top players (like USC tackle William Justice or Texas safety Michael Huff) drops to within a three picks of their position.

"It's so expensive to go up, relative to what it costs you in draft picks," Jones said. "There's just six or seven situations up there that if it got close enough to you, a few picks away, that you would want to pay the cost to get up there. But it's more likely to take the value of trading down if someone else has a player there. I feel good about the quality of the players right there."

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