CLEVELAND — The NFL Draft set up perfectly for the defense-starved Dallas Cowboys, through the first seven picks. Only offensive players were selected through those first seven selections, and all of them at positions the Cowboys do not need in this draft.
And then the bottom fell out.
Dallas, coming off a historically bad season defensively, had heavily targeted the top two corners in this draft -- Alabama's Patrick Surtain II, and South Carolina's Jaycee Horn.
Horn went 8th.
Surtain II went 9th.
Or at the very least, that's what Cowboys fans did. Dallas saw their top two options disappear in a matter of minutes, leaving them with 10 minutes on the clock to scramble their way into a better situation. And that led to a rare trade, with NFC East rival Philadelphia.
The Cowboys shipped the No. 10 pick to Philly, got the Eagles No. 12 selection back in return, and added Philadelphia's 3rd round selection, pick No. 84. And then, two picks later selected linebacker Micah Parsons out of Penn State.
"There were no surprises here, or no consternation," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insisted. "We've been talking about the cornerbacks being gone at 8 and 9 for days."
It's believable that Dallas anticipated this possibility. It's not believable that there's no consternation. Dallas needs a cornerback, and Horn and Surtain II were the two clear best. Dallas wanted one. And they came up empty. And in the process, they watched their division rival select a wide receiver who won the Heisman four months ago.
Now, cornerback becomes an even more pressing need, going into Day 2 of the draft.
The best thing Dallas did on Thursday night increased their overall value in this draft. Adding another third-round pick means Dallas will have four selections to make on Friday.
But trading any further back, while a consideration, wasn't going to be an option because they worried Parsons might escape them if they did.
"We didn't have the stomach to risk losing [Parsons] relative to our evaluation of him," Jones said.
Dallas also didn't want to move up, in order to get Horn or Surtain. Jones said the Cowboys "weren't willing to give up what it would take," to get in front of the Panthers and Broncos.
Parsons was very excited to learn of his selection by the Cowboys, noting that he had basically predicted it. Parsons had been asked on Instagram where he wanted to go and posted a picture of himself playing at AT&T Stadium.
"I wanted to finish what I started," Parsons said. "I had a great game, the Memphis game in Dallas. I fell in love with that stadium. I fell in love with everything they had to offer in Dallas."
Parsons also believed he'd be a fit within the Cowboys defense, alongside linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, and working within Dan Quinn's defensive system.
"I knew what type of system I was coming into, and who I wanted to play next to; the competition I wanted to go against every day offensively. I think I’m gonna go against the best offense in America the whole season, so it’s only going to make me better. And we’re gonna go from there. I also knew what Jerry Jones was about. He wants to win, and he got a winner.”
"Micah is a dynamic player," Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think clearly when you watch him play, he's a multi-positional player. Obviously, he can play on the ball as a linebacker. He's got natural pass-rush skills."
With two other established linebackers, in Smith and Vander Esch, Dallas will have to get creative in order to keep all three on the field as much as possible and justify their value.
"It gives us a lot of flexibility to line up with the other linebackers," McCarthy said. "He's a pressure player. He's definitely going to make an impact for us on defense."
Parsons comes with some character concerns. During his time at Penn State, Parsons was alleged to have engaged in the sexual hazing of a teammate. He was not charged in the incident.
"They did all their background checks, and I let them know the truth," Parsons said when asked about the allegations, and if he felt they affected his draft process.
"There’s nothing pending against me. There’s nothing I would lie about. Everything was dropped, and all that type of stuff. They were false allegations. I never got to speak on my name because it’s hard to say that while you’re in the process, but obviously, they did their background. They know I’m not a character concern at all. I think I’m a great person, and I’m going to keep becoming a better father and person every day, not only for myself but for my entire family. And Cowboys nation, now I got to represent them every day, too," he said.
The selection of Parsons also calls into question what the Cowboys will do with Smith and Vander Esch, going forward. Dallas has yet to pick up the 5th-year option of Vander Esch's rookie contract. That option would pay Vander Esch $9.1 million in 2022. The selection of Parsons makes one wonder if the Cowboys may elect to move on from their 2018 first-round pick, at the end of 2021.
Smith's cap hit continues to escalate in the coming years, to between $11-14 million for the years 2022-25, according to Spotrac. Dallas could get out of that deal, though, this offseason, with just $6.8 million in dead money.
The selection of Parsons may chase one of the two established Cowboys linebackers this offseason.