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PSU’s Parsons heads to ‘Big D’

NFL draft

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons holds a team jersey after the was chosen by the Dallas Cowboys with the 12th pick in the NFL football draft Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

FRISCO, Texas — As they say goodbye to one Penn State linebacker, the Dallas Cowboys are welcoming another.

The Cowboys selected linebacker Micah Parsons of the Nittany Lions with the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night after trading down two spots in a deal with NFC East rival Philadelphia.

Dallas drafted Parsons two days after Sean Lee bid farewell during the club’s pre-draft news conference. Lee, a second-round pick in 2010, retired after spending all 11 of his mostly injury-plagued seasons with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys added a third-round pick from the Eagles in the trade, the 84th overall selection. The deal gives Dallas three picks in the third round. Philadelphia took Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith.

Dallas made the move down after two cornerbacks the club was targeting at No. 10 were taken. South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn went to Carolina at No. 8, and Patrick Surtain II of Alabama was taken ninth by Denver.

The Cowboys currently have four picks on the second day of the draft Friday. Their second-rounder is at No. 44, with the third-round choices at 75, 84 and 99.

The decision to go with Parsons adds some intrigue at linebacker for Dallas.

Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas’ first-round choice (19th overall) in 2018, has battled injuries most of his four seasons, including a neck issue in which Vander Esch acknowledged he has a condition that involves the narrowing of the spinal column.

The future of Jaylon Smith is in doubt as well. Dallas took him in the second round knowing he wouldn’t play for a full year because of a major knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame.

While Smith has been productive at times, the inconsistencies in his play led to questions of whether he will see the end of the $64 million, five-year extension he signed in 2019.

Parsons opted out of the 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns. He was an Associated Press All-American as a sophomore in 2019 when he led the Nittany Lions with 104 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss.

The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Parsons played his final college game at the home of the Cowboys, a 53-39 victory over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl to finish the 2019 season. Parsons led Penn State with 14 tackles and forced two fumbles

“I wanted to finish what I started,” Parsons said. “I had a great game, the Memphis game and I wanted to start in Dallas. I fell in love with that stadium. I fell in love with everything they had to offer in Dallas.”

While Lee only had one season that wasn’t interrupted by injuries, he had a productive career in Dallas. Lee led all NFL linebackers in interceptions through his first six seasons. He was an All-Pro in 2016 and a two-time Pro Bowler.

“I know what he represents, what type of player he was,” Parsons said. “Hopefully one day we can link up in Dallas and I can use him as a mentor and get better.”

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones hinted two days before the draft the Cowboys might move off the 10th pick, indicating it was more likely to be down than up because they just signed Dak Prescott to a $160 million, four-year contract with five projected first-rounders at quarterback available.

The closest thing to a need on offense for Dallas is tackle, but only because Tyron Smith just turned 30 and has missed a troubling number of games because of neck and back issues. The seven-time Pro Bowler played just two games last year before season-ending neck surgery.

Defense was the biggest draft need last year as well, but receiver CeeDee Lamb unexpectedly fell to the Cowboys at No. 17. They ended up getting a starting cornerback in the second round in Trevon Diggs.

While Dallas still needs playmakers on defense, it’s not like the club has ignored that side the ball in recent drafts. Before this year, the Cowboys had taken a defensive player with their first pick in four of the previous six drafts. The first-round picks in that stretch haven’t been long-term solutions so far.

Cornerback Byron Jones (2015) signed with Miami in free agency last year. Defensive end Taco Charlton (2017) was released before his rookie deal expired, and the Cowboys have until Monday to exercise the fifth-year option on Vander Esch’s rookie contract.

The Cowboys need more pass rushers, with Randy Gregory slated to start opposite DeMarcus Lawrence after Dallas decided not to re-sign Aldon Smith. That was a year after Dallas let a productive Robert Quinn go to Chicago in free agency.

The interior defensive line should get a boost from a healthy Trysten Hill, the Cowboys’ top pick as a second-rounder two years ago. Hill tore a knee ligament five games into last season.

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