Overview: The Cowboys have been active in free agency, despite receiving word of a $10 million salary-cap punishment for contractual moves made during the uncapped season in 2010. Despite this, the team has added CB Brandon Carr, S Brodney Pool, OGs Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau and ILB Dan Connor, all of whom will compete for starting jobs. That has minimized some of the team’s immediate needs, which now makes the draft more of a crapshoot. They can trade up or, more likely, down from their first pick at No. 14. Always active on Draft Day, Jerry Jones seeks to angle and maneuver to land the players he and his staff most hotly desire. The team has all of its original picks, plus a compensatory pick (fourth round, No. 135 overall) that it cannot trade.
Need No. 1: Nose tackle/defensive end
Despite the team having one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in DeMarcus Ware and using the franchise tag on his bookend, OLB Anthony Spencer, the team needs to find more pressure defenders. That could come in the form of a stand-up linebacker, a down lineman or a hybrid of the two. The more likely option would be a 3-4 defensive end, although it’s very possible the team could seek a nose tackle, which would allow defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to move Jay Ratliff to a DE spot, where his size is more ideal. Another thing that having a bigger nose tackle would help is shielding what is likely to be a younger pair of inside linebackers, as vets Keith Brooking and Bradie James might not return.
Need No. 2: Wide receiver
The loss of WR Laurent Robinson (11 TDs) shouldn’t be overlooked. He rescued the Cowboys after joining the team in Week Two as a great yards-after-the-catch option outside the team’s Big Three. Thirty-two of the team’s 33 TD passes went to four players — Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Robinson. There is no player on the roster who projects to fill that spot by himself, so don’t rule out a second- or third-round pick used on a wideout. Austin can kick inside to the slot, so an outside vertical threat makes a lot of sense.
Need No. 3: Defensive back
The secondary is likely to be addressed in some form, but it’s not clear where the bigger need lies. At corner, there is talent with Carr, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, but little additional depth. At safety, Pool helps, but Gerald Sensabaugh is hardly an inspiring starting partner. But is safety a primary position in Ryan’s defense? We will find out. The Cowboys almost certainly will pluck a player who helps the back end in some form, likely one who has a little versatility and also can play a heavy dose of man defense.