As Cowboys’ draft receives praise, one area is not to be overlooked

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A top-level NFL executive, one with his own draft board and no skin in the NFC East game, took a round-by-round look Sunday at the draft class the Cowboys assembled. The seven-player group has drawn A-grades from most media pundits and prompted owner Jerry Jones to feel better Saturday evening, he said, than after any draft in recent memory.

The executive’s outside opinion?

Jones has reason to feel good.

But while this external evaluator – whose team ranked CeeDee Lamb as the top wide receiver when Dallas took him as the third, graded No. 51 overall pick Trevon Diggs as the No. 2 cornerback ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ No. 9 pick C.J. Henderson, and placed an early second-round valuation on the Cowboys’ third-round choice, defensive tackle Neville Gallimore — was complimentary of selections made, a trade also stood out.

It reflected smart roster management.

The Cowboys were active in free agency last month, but they lost more unrestricted free agents to big-money contracts than they acquired. Through the compensatory pick system, the NFL rewards teams that experience such imbalance. Dallas expects to receive a few extra draft picks in 2021, prompting them to part with a 2021 fifth-round choice on Saturday when trading to select former Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz in the fourth round.

The rival Philadelphia Eagles were the trade partner in the Biadasz deal.

They allowed the Cowboys to upgrade the No. 164 overall pick in the fifth to the No. 146 in the fourth.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said that the anticipation of 2021 compensatory picks played a vital role in the decision to part with a future fifth-round choice.

“Absolutely,” he said in a Saturday conference call following the draft’s completion. “It was discussed at length. You want to have the right resources after every season to improve your football team. Everybody witnessed what happened to us in terms of losing some valuable players this year. The great news is the NFL has the system in place that you get compensated for it.

“We felt strongly we were going to have four really nice compensatory picks. You hit it right there. There is no question we feel like we’re going to get those four. It did give us a little liberty to use that pick next year to get up and get a really good football player.”

Compensatory picks for 2021 have yet to be formally dispensed; that generally does not happen until a month or two before each draft.

But a website called Over the Cap, which is devoted to NFL contract information, produces a reliable projection of compensatory-pick assignments to come.

Consistent with Jones’ conclusion, OTC calls for the Cowboys to receive four compensatory picks in 2021. One is a third-rounder from cornerback Byron Jones’ blockbuster signing with the Miami Dolphins. The others are a fourth-rounder for defensive end Robert Quinn, fifth-rounder for cornerback Randall Cobb and a sixth-rounder for safety Jeff Heath.

Each pick reflects well on the front office.

Jones, a 2015 first-round choice, gave the Cowboys five good years and a Day 2 pick. That is a favorable return of investment. The Cowboys acquired Quinn via trade in March of last year for a 2020 sixth-round pick. They flipped that sixth-round selection for a team-high 11 ½ sacks during the 2019 season and a future fourth-round pick. Again, that is a favorable return of investment.

Same for Cobb, who totaled 55 catches for 828 yards and three touchdowns in his one season upon signing as a free agent. Heath first arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2013 and became a rock on special teams, was voted a team captain in 2019 and made 54 career starts on defense for good measure. A sixth-round pick is a nice kicker on top.

What becomes of Biadasz’s career is unclear.

Travis Frederick, a five-time Pro Bowl center, retired last month. To paint the rookie as the “next Frederick” or even “Frederick’s successor” because both happened to attend Wisconsin and play the same position would be neither fair nor realistic. It would be extremely optimistic to pencil in Biadasz as a starter next season in favor of a veteran already on the roster, particularly since all organized on-field workouts this spring have been canceled to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the jury deliberates on Biadasz, a verdict can be read on how the Cowboys’ managed this particular area of their roster.

They developed a future commodity through the NFL’s compensatory pick system. They accelerated the pay-off into the present toward a position of need. This is the sort of combination that other front-office executives around the NFL notice and appreciate.

And it’s one more footnote to any A-level draft grade.


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