FRISCO, Texas — In terms of weeks at The Star for the Dallas Cowboys, this one might be among the most important — except for the playoffs.
Week 1 of the regular season might bring an added boost, and the first training-camp practices inside Ford Center after a few weeks in Oxnard, California, might garner buzz from fans getting to see their team for the first time.
But this week is crucial to the formation of the 2019 Cowboys because of the number of players making their way to Frisco for predraft national visits at the beginning of the week and workouts by local players at the end of the week.
Players started arriving at The Star on Monday and will keep coming through until Wednesday for the top-30 visits (the NFL allows teams to bring 30 prospects to their headquarters ahead of the draft). Normally, the Cowboys keep a few spots in reserve in case they have a last-minute thought or two about a player and want to get their questions answered.
On Friday, they will have their Dallas Day workouts for players who went to high school or college in the area.
A year ago, Connor Williams, who grew up in Coppell, Texas, impressed the staff during Dallas Day by going through a workout. Normally, players expected to be first- or second-round selections will come to the facility to glad-hand but not work out.
When the Cowboys were on the clock in the second round contemplating whether to send their pick to the Seattle Seahawks for Earl Thomas, they reminded themselves of Williams’ workout and figured they would still have another crack to land Thomas.
Ultimately, Thomas did not come to the Cowboys (or sign with them this offseason as a free agent), but the team believes Williams will be a cornerstone piece to an offensive line that already includes Tyron Smith, Travis Frederickand Zack Martin.
The top-30 visitors, however, are a little different. They do not work out. They meet with their prospective position coaches and coordinators and go to the classroom. They will speak with scouts and medical staff. They will also sit down with Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
Some teams will attempt to deflect interest in a player, but the Cowboys have been consistent over the years. Since Dallas took DeMarcus Ware with its first selection in 2005, the only top pick not to make a predraft visit to the Cowboys was Morris Claiborne in 2012.
Last year, the Cowboys visited with and drafted Leighton Vander Eschand Williams. In 2017, they visited with and drafted Taco Charlton (first round), Chidobe Awuzie (second) and Xavier Woods (sixth). In 2016, they visited with and drafted Ezekiel Elliott (first) and Dak Prescott(fourth). In 2015, they visited with and drafted Byron Jones (first), Randy Gregory (second), Chaz Green(third), Damien Wilson (fourth) and Mark Nzeocha (seventh).
Complicating things some this year is Dallas not having a first-round pick because of the trade for Amari Cooper. Among the Cowboys’ visitors last year were seven players picked in the first round (Kolton Miller, Calvin Ridley, DJ Moore, Vita Vea, Daron Payne, Rashaan Evans and Vander Esch).
The Cowboys’ first 2019 pick comes in the second round, No. 58 overall, but coach Jason Garrett said the approach to the draft will remain the same.
“You have to be careful. Trades happen, there’s a lot of different ways to have access to some of those players,” Garrett said at the scouting combine. “I don’t think you just say, ‘Oh, that guy’s going to be gone.’ I don’t think that’s the right approach. You have to do your due diligence and go through the process the right way.”
Since the 2018 season ended, the Cowboys have re-signed their own, such as Jason Witten (if he can be considered that after spending one year with ESPN’s Monday Night Football), added free agents (Randall Cobb, Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder and George Iloka) and made a trade (Robert Quinn) to fill roster holes.
The Cowboys currently have more safeties visiting before the draft than any other position. According to sources, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill, Washington’s Taylor Rapp and Boston College’s Will Harris are to be among the national visitors to The Star this week.
Iloka, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier and Darian Thompson are set to be unrestricted free agents after the season. Though the Cowboys don’t have a great need for the spot in 2019, they will in 2020 and beyond.
The same holds true at receiver, where the Cowboys have Cobb, Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin under contract through 2019. Technically, Cooper is signed through 2019 as well, but the feeling is a long-term deal will be worked out with him at some point. Among their visitors to Frisco are South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel and Georgia’s Mecole Hardman.
By covering their bases in free agency, the Cowboys would not absolutely need a player at either spot to step in immediately and become a regular contributor, although they would be OK if that happened.
Since 2014, when Will McClay took over the draft process, the Cowboys have selected six players who have become Pro Bowlers.
All six visited before the draft.
It’s worth paying attention to who is walking in the door.