But just as important — or perhaps even more important — is free agency, when teams break out their checkbooks and go shopping for talent. The draft produces players who might be valuable assets to a team; in free agency, players are offered contracts based on what they have done as professional players. In other words, tea executives should have a better idea of what they're getting.
Before teams can put together their shopping lists, however, they have to consider which players they might lose from their own rosters. If those players are deemed important enough, then considerable financial investments are made simply to retain their own.
The lists are out, and the Dallas Cowboys have 12 free agents who theoretically could leave. The marquee name, and the player who likely will land the largest contract) on the Cowboys' list of free agents is wide receiver Miles Austin. But no position could be hit harder than defensive end, where three of the free agents — Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen — are free to pursue the highest bidders.
Defensive linemen are at a premium among NFL teams, especially defensive linemen who can pressure the quarterback, and Spears, Hatcher and Bowen all can do exactly that. But it would be a mistake, Bowen said, to break up the line that was one of the league's best this season.
"I think for us, we thought every week, we (were) the best D-line in the league," Bowen said. "We think we dominated everybody we went against — everybody knew they were in for a fight when they went against us. We're a group that's been together for a while, we all know each other's strengths and weaknesses, we all get along on and off the field, so to keep the group together, I think, would be great."
Stephen Bowen recorded 18 total tackles, including three sacks this year for the Cowboys. (Getty Images)
"Of course, I'd love to be here," he said. "I love the city of Dallas, I love my teammates, I love my coaches — I wouldn't rather be anywhere else but here.
"Only time will tell — I don't know what will happen."
The uncertainty of the league's collective bargaining agreement, which could result in a season without a salary cap next year, has some free agents sweating about their futures, but Bowen insisted he doesn't plan to lose any sleep over the CBA.
"It does (cause some concern), but there's nothing I can do about it, so I'm not going to worry about it," Bowen said. "Things will take care of themselves. That's the kind of person I am — if things don't work out, then they don't work out. But if they do, and I'm here, I would love to be here. I would never want to play for another team if I have a choice."
Bowen said that despite Sunday's blowout loss to Minnesota, this season was one in which the Cowboys made significant progress, and laid the foundation for a bright future, complete with more postseason success.
"I think we took a step in the right direction," Bowen said. "There's a lot of people that doubted us, thought we were a team with a lot of skeletons in our closet. We weren't (supposed to be) a team that could win in the playoffs, or win in December, yada yada yada … So I think we took a step in the right direction, but we didn't finish up the goal. So that means we have a lot more work to do.
"Everybody believed (the Super Bowl was a realistic goal) — there was no doubt in anybody's mind. Everybody thought it was a really attainable goal, just because of the way we were playing. We had so much confidence — we weren't cocky, but we just knew that if we played our best ball, nobody could stop us."
But before the Cowboys can being their attempt to repeat — and theoretically improve upon — this season's success, they first must determine which players will stay and which will have new addresses. Bowen said keeping the team — and more specifically, the defensive line — together is a must. He also said that keeping the current group of defensive linemen, including all three free agents, together will benefit the team more than replacing any of them with a new player through free agency or via the draft.
"Why change it when we're just going to keep getting better?" he asked. "We're all young, we're all good players … why change it?"