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NFL Draft: Dallas Cowboys Stick to the Plan Even as it Backfires

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COMMENTARY | As offensive lineman after offensive lineman came off of the board in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys felt the best course of action was to trade down from the 18th overall pick into the 31st. And then draft an offensive lineman.

Wisconsin center Travis Frederick will become the newest member of America's Team and the third center on their roster.

It was highly speculated that the Cowboys would use their first rounder to improve one of the league's worst offensive lines. Unfortunately, six teams ahead of them had the same strategy, forcing the Cowboys to get creative.

The hope was that D.J. Fluker or Chance Warmack would fall far enough to be within striking distance. When that didn't work out it seemed plausible that the Cowboys would shift their focus to defense. Notable prospects such as defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Eric Reid looked to be fine choices at No. 18. Instead, they worked out a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to swap first round picks and acquire an additional third.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Cowboys would move down a few spots, gain an extra mid-rounder and still have a shot at drafting a top-rated offensive lineman. The plan backfired. The next two picks (19th and 20th) were tackle Justin Pugh and guard Kyle Long.

Then, the plan backfired again. The 49ers used the 18th pick to select Reid, the Vikings snagged Floyd, and just when it seemed like the Cowboys were going to get a steal in defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, the Broncos took him at 28.

Watching all of this go down on the live stream of the Cowboys War Room made it evident that this was the worst case scenario. Jerry Jones sat in the middle of the room, red-faced and shuffling papers about. Jason Garrett sat to his right, who seemed to get angrier every time Stephen Jones, sitting to Jerry's left, got on the phone with somebody. It was clear that Plan A and Plan B had both failed. The results were picking a position of need, but not necessarily a player of desire.

It seems that this was more of panic pick and less of a well thought out strategy. Trading down sounds nice in theory, but if it means missing out on a couple of top-rated prospects and being forced into a player you don't want, then you have to question the value of your return. Will the added third rounder, No. 74 overall, provide enough production to cover for the likes of Reid and Floyd? Or will it be a bargaining chip for another trade? Having two second rounders would certainly make it look like Jones and company had a deliberate plan.

Either way, the Cowboys needed to spend at least two selections on protecting Tony Romo. Frederick affords them some versatility in that he's excelled at both guard and center. Furthermore, the fact that they took him first overall says something about their change in philosophy. This is the second time in three years they've used their first round pick on an offensive lineman, but it's just the fifth time in their history. The last time, before taking Tyron Smith in 2011, was in 1981. Obviously, it hasn't been a priority in years past.

And it almost got reprioritized in this draft. The Cowboys could have easily abandoned their strategy in favor of drafting the best player available. But they stuck to their guns despite the temptations of stocking their defense.

In any case, Frederick may not necessarily be the player the Cowboys wanted, but he does represent a position they needed to fill. He could very well turn out to be a perennial Pro Bowler for quarterbacks to come. We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, it's hard to fault the Cowboys for finally addressing their biggest problem of the last several years (on the field that is). I just hope they're going about it in the right way.

Justin Bonnema is a freelance writer and a featured columnist covering the NFL and fantasy football.

Follow him on Twitter: @justinbonnema

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