Conveyor Belt

The conveyor belt and why the 2020 draft is so crucial to Dallas

  • 2020 NFL Draft
  • dallas cowboys
By Nate Sanchez April 9, 2020 0 Comment
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The Cowboys roster is growing pricier by the day. With the league’s talent conveyor belt moving and Dallas falling behind, 2009 cap hell awaits the Cowboys if the 2020 Draft isn’t a success.

The best analogy for the NFL talent acquisition business is a conveyor belt, as written by Cowboys writer and local radio host Bob Sturm. For first-round picks, you get four years of relatively cheap labor plus a fifth year team option. For all other picks, it’s a four-year window.

The draft class of 2009 was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. After shipping away a first, a third, and a sixth for Lions wide-out Roy Williams, Dallas scrambled to accumulate as many picks as it could. Dallas went for quantity over quality, as the Cowboys selected 12 players, and absolutely none of them panned out. Cheap, young talent is the best talent, and this draft class is a huge reason why the Cowboys were devoid of cheap and young talent for some time and ultimately ended up in cap hell.

The importance of hitting on these picks cannot be understated. Once you start missing on your picks, you have bigger holes on your roster. When these holes aren’t filled through the draft, they are filled through free agency. This leads to overspending out of desperation, and voila! You are now in cap hell, weighed down by bad contracts.

Recovery from 2009

It took Dallas some time to recover from that awful 2009 draft. Will McClay wielded more power in the front office, and by the time Stephen Jones convinced his father that Zack Martin was the right choice rather than Johnny Manziel, Dallas was officially disciplined in the draft.

It took many years of smart drafting to get the franchise back on its feet. By 2014, the team was 12-4 and was a “Dez Caught It” away from the NFC Championship Game.

Dallas began to hit on almost all of its high leverage picks. The 2010 Draft featured Dez Bryant in the first round and Sean Lee in the second. Then in 2011 came Tyron Smith in the first, Bruce Carter in the second, DeMarco Murray in the third, and Dwayne Harris in the sixth.

In 2012 was the bust of a trade-up in Morris Claiborne, but Tyrone Crawford was a steal in the third. 2013 featured Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams. 2014 was a smash hit of a draft as Dallas took Zack Martin in the first, DeMarcus Lawrence in the second, and Anthony Hitchens in the fourth. 2015 brought us Byron Jones and Randy Gregory.

And who could forget the incredible draft class of 2016? Regardless of whether you preferred Jalen Ramsey over Ezekiel Elliott, a draft class of Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Dak Prescott, and Anthony Brown is extremely difficult to top.

But then 2017 rolled around, and it has hamstrung Dallas for a litany of reasons. That draft class is difficult to stomach for anyone associated with the Cowboys.

In 2017, the Cowboys went back to their old ways a bit. The best way to draft is to acquire good players and build your scheme around their strengths. That night, the Cowboys felt that T.J. Watt didn’t fit their scheme, as he was more of a 3-4 outside linebacker and wouldn’t fit their 4-3 defense. Enter Taco Charlton.

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes that draft so difficult to stomach. It’s a close call between the failure of Charlton or the fact that he was chosen over a bona fide star who has been a terror for the Steelers for years now while Charlton was cut before his third season. Three years later, here we are as the Cowboys are still searching for a pass rusher to put opposite Lawrence. Edge rusher is a real possibility in the top rounds of the 2020 Draft for Dallas.

Sure, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods have been nice additions to the secondary. Awuzie underwhelmed a bit in 2019, but acquiring three contributors to your secondary in one draft is passable. But this 2017 Draft is a perfect example of how it only takes one miss on a high leverage pick to hamstring a team.

Better drafts as of late?

The 2018 Draft is no class to sneeze at, as Dallas brought in Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, and Michael Gallup. This is a great draft class that most teams would sign up for. Vander Esch had an incredible rookie year, Williams was having a good 2019 prior to his ACL injury, and Gallup has been a steal, becoming a great second option to Amari Cooper.

Nevertheless, the 2019 draft class now has begun to hamstring Dallas similarly to how the 2017 draft did. The positive is that the first round pick was used to acquire Amari Cooper. No one would dispute the positive effects of that deal. Now here we are in 2020 still searching for a safety after Dallas reached on Trysten Hill rather than any of the very talented safeties on the board like Juan Thornhill, Nasir Adderley, or Taylor Rapp.

Tony Pollard was selected in the fourth round and has proved to be quite useful. Connor McGovern essentially took a redshirt for his rookie year, but he is going to be a big key to replacing Travis Frederick. Dallas reportedly likes Donovan Wilson a lot after he impressed in the preseason last year.

None of this is to say that you should be condemning the 2019 draft class just yet. However, the spotlight is officially on. It is essential Dallas gets much more from Hill. Especially since the rest of this class after Hill frequented the inactive list in his rookie year.

The conveyor belt is moving, and the Cowboys are falling behind. If Dallas wishes to compete in 2020 and beyond, hitting on this year’s draft is essential.

Amari Cooper now costs $20 million per year. Dak Prescott is about to cost north of $35 million per year. That’s two of the many players on this roster Dallas pays quite handsomely. After the 2017 miss on Charlton, and a 2019 draft class that is lagging behind, Dallas’ roster isn’t getting any cheaper.

The four-year window with Prescott on a dirt cheap deal has been squandered. Now it is time to get back to the old ways of approaching the draft. Don’t get caught up in scheme fit too much and overthink things. It’s time to get back to the old ways of acquiring the best players and not the best scheme fits. Dallas didn’t need another offensive lineman, but it still landed Zack Martin in 2014.

The point of all this is that the 2020 draft is the most important draft Dallas has had in quite some time. The top end of the roster is getting more expensive. So, acquiring cheap, young talent to fill out the rest of the roster becomes more crucial. This draft class will determine whether Dallas is chasing its own tail in cap hell for years, similarly to like they did in the aftermath of the 2009 disaster. The Cowboys need their front office to step up more than ever in this year’s draft.



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