The Cowboys have a multitude of needs this offseason. Their roster has holes everywhere. There are an estimated 11 starting spots open for competition. Given their current Salary Cap situation ($22M over) they will be hard-pressed to sign free agents and frankly can expect to lose most of their own free agents.
This leaves the NFL Draft as the primary source of talent acquisition in 2014. With only eight picks at their disposal, rebuilding the team seems like an impossible task in just one offseason. The temptation is to pick the weakest spot and focus all energy on improving it.
I discussed this in last week’s mailbag here. In it we discussed cluster-bombing the DL position group. While it’s hard to argue with that strategy, it may not be the smartest move in the long run. I explained at the time that Dallas has many other needs so they shouldn’t feel pressured to just pick DL.
After further thought I came up with a few other reasons the Cowboys should diversify their picks this May…
Rarely do players enter the NFL in full stride. Depending on the position, there is a substantial learning curve. Drafting multiple people in the same year, for the same position, almost guarantees issues - not to mention a slower learning curve.
Players spend an overwhelming majority of their time working with their position group. A pool of veterans in each position group adds an important dynamic. A lesser talented veteran still serves a purpose. He would provide stability while aiding in learning. Both in the locker room and on the field.
You can imagine a group of kids/young men would work and act differently if there were a larger veteran presence around them. The idea of drafting 3 new defensive linemen in the first half of the draft fills a need but isn’t an ideal learning situation. Especially with them knowing they are basically guaranteed a starting spot given their draft status and the needs on the team.
Looking at long-term financials is something often overlooked in the NFL. But make no mistake, the top GM’s are always paying attention to it. Long-term financial planning isn’t just drafting a young cheap player to replace an expensive aging player. It’s also about planning for the player’s second contract and evening the money out across the different position groups. Let’s look at the second contract issue first:
The second contract is what NFL players sign after their rookie deals have expired. Most rookie deals in rounds 1-3 are between 3 and 5 years in length. An NFL player’s second contract is typically the highest dollar deal of his career. It’s when the player has entered his physical prime and is most likely to play the entire length of said contract.
Good teams resign their own players to second contracts. That’s because good teams draft well and good teams are financially able to resign their key players. Granted it’s not always possible to resign every player you want, but as a rule, the better teams in the NFL resign more of their own players.
When a team is facing those tough decisions as to who to resign to their second deals and who to set free, it’s helps substantially if the players in question are dispersed evenly through the different positions.
If an entire position group is drafted around the same time, their second contracts will all come up around the same time. That’s a financial nightmare for a GM.
Spreading the Financial Commitment across Position Groups
In today’s salary capped NFL, everyone can’t be making top dollar. The money must be spread out across the team from position group to position group. If you go out and sign 4 Pro-Bowlers to anchor your defensive line, you won’t have much left to spend on the other positions. Instead, teams try to tier the financial commitment in each position group. Like 2 high-priced players for the DL, 1 for LB, and one high-priced player for the secondary.
For instance, an ideal defensive line would have one or two players in their prime (and playing on their second contracts), one player a moderately priced veteran, and one player a player on his rookie contract. It would look like this:
DE on second contract: $12M per year
DT on second contract: $9M per year
DT on moderate deal: $5M per year
DE on rookie deal: $4M per year
You can mix it into different variations of this, but going too far one way or another, often proves problematic. If everyone is a moderately priced veteran, then you probably have no real playmakers on the unit. If everyone is on their second contract, you are paying way too much for the defensive line unit and probably are forced to go extremely thin elsewhere. If everyone is young and playing under their rookie deals, then a day of reckoning awaits. And that is what could happen if the Cowboys go all-in on the defensive line.
Many sports writers are asking for the Cowboys to draft three straight defensive linemen this May. I agree that is the biggest need and will offer the most short-term success, but it will be disastrous down the road when all of these players are looking for their second contracts. There would be no way the Cowboys could justify resigning them all and they would be forced to let a good player escape (assuming the Cowboys drafted well).
That is exactly why the Cowboys would be best served to diversify their picks in this year’s draft. With so many needs it shouldn’t be too difficult to find options. It’s time the Cowboys start looking at the long term consequences of their actions and run the franchise like so many other successful franchises are run.
Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Reid on twitter @ReidDHanson