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The Dallas Cowboys finished the 2017 season with a struggling offense, but it appears the defense is still more of a concern if you ask ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr.

In his first mock draft, Kiper has the Cowboys selecting Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea with the 19th overall pick. Fellow ESPN Insider Todd McShay also had the Cowboys taking a defensive tackle in his first mock draft in Christian Wilkins, but he has elected to return to Clemson for another season.

From skill and need standpoints, the selection of Vea makes sense. For it to happen, however, the Cowboys have to break from one of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s long-held truths: Don’t draft run-stopping defensive tackles in the first round.

Marinelli has gotten by and succeeded with players such as Nick Hayden and Stephen Paea at nose tackle. Hayden was underrated in his time with the Cowboys, but he was not a dynamic interior player. Paea’s first season with the Cowboys was cut short by a knee injury.

When the Cowboys lost Paea in 2017, they moved Maliek Collins to the nose tackle spot. He was OK, but the Cowboys came to love Collins his rookie year as the under tackle. He had to play out of position most of the season and was not able to replicate the success he had as a rookie.

However, Vea could be a different story. He is more than a run-stopper. He is a large man (6-4, 346 pounds) with athleticism that saw him move around Washington’s line. He had 9.5 sacks in three seasons.

Kiper is right; the Cowboys don’t have somebody of Vea’s size along their front. They would like to keep Collins as their under tackle. They have gotten by on effort to stop the run instead of brute force. At times, they struggled against the run in 2017 but a lot of that came with Sean Lee off the field.

Vea makes sense for the Cowboys, but to get there they might have to convince Marinelli it is the right move.

Kiper also mentioned wide receiver as a possibility at No. 19. Only one receiver was off his board in Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, who went No. 8 to the Chicago Bears. Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk was the next receiver to go, at No. 26 to the Atlanta Falcons, and SMU’s Courtland Sutton went No. 27 to the New Orleans Saints.

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Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin is recovering from right elbow surgery that will keep him out of the upcoming Pro Bowl but not from the start of the offseason program.

The surgery was a considered a cleanup and nothing too serious. Martin did not miss a game in 2017 and has not missed a game in his career.

The Cowboys hope to pick up talks on a long-term deal for Martin, who has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons, early in the offseason. He is set to make $9.3 million in 2018 under the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but the Cowboys would like to lock him up to a deal that takes him well into the future. Martin has also expressed a desire to remain with the Cowboys.

Left tackle Tyron Smith is also expected to miss the Pro Bowl after he ended the season on injured reserve. He was slowed by back, hip and groin injuries but was placed on injured reserve the final week of the season because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee suffered against the Oakland Raiders.

At the end of the season, coach Jason Garrett said the hope is Smith could avoid surgery. Smith missed three games and most of a fourth because of injuries after missing two games in 2016.

“He has had some different things over the last couple of years that he’s dealt with,” Garrett said the day after the season ended. “We don’t necessarily see it as a trend. He’s still a young player. He’s played a lot of snaps, but physically he seems to be in good shape beyond the specific injuries that he’s had.”

Without Martin and Smith, center Travis Frederick would be the lone Cowboys’ representative on the offensive line at the Pro Bowl. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks, was also picked for the all-star game.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins had left foot surgery to help fix an issue that bothered him from the sixth game of the season on. Collins did not miss a game and moved to defensive tackle when the Cowboys put Stephen Paea on injured reserve. He finished the season with 2.5 sacks and 22 tackles.

Collins had similar surgery on his right foot prior to his rookie season and was limited into training camp, but he managed to start 14 of 16 games and finish with five sacks. The Cowboys do not expect him to have any issues recovering from this surgery.

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Even by Dallas Cowboys standards, last week was a doozy.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones brought attention into the locker room by saying a player would be benched if he did not stand for the national anthem. President Donald Trump appreciated Jones’ comments, but some players were confused. Jones later met with the team to discuss his stance, which came after a local labor union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

On the field, the Cowboys cut one of their opening day cornerbacks, Nolan Carroll. In March, the Cowboys gave him a $3 million signing bonus as their biggest free-agent signing. For less than six quarters of action, he will earn $4 million from the Cowboys ostensibly because rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis is ready to play more.

The Cowboys saw their opening day nose tackle, Stephen Paea, retire because of a knee injury that kept him out of practice since the first week of the season. Paea’s play in the preseason allowed the Cowboys to say goodbye to last year’s biggest free-agent signing, Cedric Thornton, despite owing him $3 million. Without Paea, the Cowboys have just one true defensive tackle, Brian Price, who was claimed off waivers at the start of the season.

Not long after the Cowboys said goodbye for the bye weekend, they learned running back Ezekiel Elliott will have to serve his six-game suspension unless he is granted a temporary injunction from a New York court that already has ruled in the NFL’s favor regarding commissioner discipline.

Oh, by the way, the Cowboys are one of the more disappointing teams of the young season with a 2-3 record.

“Our focus is football and trying to right the ship,” All-Pro center Travis Frederick said. “Things obviously haven’t gone as well as we want. One of the benefits we have as being the Dallas Cowboys is we always have distractions. There’s always stuff around. That’s just kind of the world we live in, so I feel like this team is good at kind of moving that stuff to the back and thinking about football.”

Talk of distractions always seem to envelope the Cowboys, but coach Jason Garrett’s process-oriented approach has the team focusing only on the day at hand and worrying about nothing more. Remember, a year ago this was a team that lost its starting quarterback, Tony Romo, and handed the keys to a fourth-round pick.

All Dak Prescott did was put together one of the best seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history, and the Cowboys responded with a 13-3 record.

Prescott is just 21 starts into his NFL career, but the Cowboys already have elected him a captain and will follow his lead.

“I think just make sure nothing changes,” Prescott said. “I think we’re doing enough. We’ve just got to keep going. I think the approach of the leadership roles within our team are making sure we’re staying focused. We’re not getting down on ourselves. We’re not losing confidence from one player or from one unit or from the team. Staying focused.”

Garrett will lean on his leadership council, a group of more than a dozen players from every position group that includes Jason Witten, Prescott, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and others.

“We rely on those guys to lead our football team,” Garrett said. “They have great credibility with me, with their teammates and with their coaches, so they’re certainly guys we count on to lead our football team day in and day out and respect their thoughts on things. The biggest thing we want to do is simply to get back to work. I think they understand that more than anybody else.”

The Cowboys officially get back to work Tuesday at noon CT for a conditioning run, followed by a team meeting.

A week ago, they still were stinging from the last-second loss to the Green Bay Packers, their second straight home defeat despite scoring 30 points in both games. They were dealing with Jones’ comments, unsure if Paea could continue to play or if Carroll even wanted to play. It took two more days for the Cowboys to learn of Elliott’s suspension.

Their off week did not go well, with every other team in the NFC East winning. Only the Chicago Bears (2-4), New York Giants (1-5) and San Francisco 49ers (0-6) have a worse record in the NFC than the Cowboys (2-3).

There is no panic, but there is a sense of urgency. To Frederick, there is a difference.

“A level of control, I would say. With a sense of urgency, you understand the situation and you are focusing on quickly identifying it and correcting it,” Frederick said. “Panic is, in my mind, pandemonium and you’ve lost control of the situation. I don’t think that’s an issue at all. I think the guys are really trying to get it right, not overreact.”