Some say Jerry Jones is the new Al Davis. I say that's totally unfair.
You think Al Davis would ever, in his life, have spent a first-round choice on a dude who clocked 5.58 in the 40? With a ceiling so low you have to hunch over not to bang your head on it, like Gandalf visiting Bag End?
Not in a million years.
For all his faults - and they were legion - Davis had a clear plan and philosophy. Draft the fastest, freakiest athletes you can and let them sprint past the opponent's cornerbacks or around their offensive tackles for the kill. Now this philosophy had its flaws, and it's ironic that Oakland made its only recent Super Bowl run with a pure West Coast attack, but Al Davis always knew what he wanted.
Like another team that this blog covers regularly, the Cowboys' player acquisition strategy seems a tad lacking when it comes to coherent philosophy. Their recent, head-scratching switch to a 4-3 Tampa 2 that asks:
- Your edge pass rushers to put their hands on the ground for the first time since college
- Your press-man, iffy-tackling corners to play zone and serve as force men in the run game
- Your nonexistent safety corps to do a ton of heavy lifting on the back end
adds a lot of fuel to the 'no-philosophy' fire.
And Dallas' first-round actions showed an organization in the throes of stubbornness, miscalculation and panic rather than one with a clear philosophy and ability to capitalize on opportunity.
Let's break it down.
Sitting at 18 looked like an iffy spot for Dallas heading into Thursday night. The three high-ceiling guys who best fit the Cowboys' biggest needs - guards Chance Womack and John Cooper and safety Kenny Vaccaro - had been widely mocked to them in February and March. But in the waning days of April, it was becoming clear that all three were likely off the board by Pick 16 at the latest.
However, every draft is full of surprises. And while the guys who were likely Dallas' most coveted were already off the board (and we may be able to count Sheldon Richardson in that group given Jerry's post draft 'quick twitch DT' comments), a potentially rare talent in Sharrif Floyd was falling into their laps. While not quite as 'quick twitch' as Richardson, Floyd held the most two-way domination potential of any DT in the entire draft and was punking out SEC guards and centers on the regular at age 20. It was easy to see how he could slide some if the Raiders didn't take him, as not many teams from 4-13 were a good fit for a 4-3 under tackle. But Dallas - with an aging and beat-up Jay Ratliff currently holding that position - sure as hell was.
In the presser, Jerry said they didn't have Floyd high enough on their board. This is apparently contradicted, however, by veteran Dallas broadcaster Norm Hitzges. Per Norm, a voice inside the Cowboys' organization said that Floyd sat at number SEVEN on Dallas' board, but Jerry and Stephen ignored the board and traded down anyway.
There's been word from those watching the Dallas War Room cam that some 'animated discussions' took place as the trade-down went down - that would seem to confirm some dissension in the ranks.
But for whatever reason, Dallas wasn't going to capitalize on the Floyd opportunity, and a trade-down was on. And things started going from bad to worse.
Jerry couldn't have been completely flat-footed when his preferred guys were off the board at 18. Various trade-down scenarios had to be in the works, and with multiple teams considering various trade-up scenarios and armed with extra picks, the potential was there to add some value with a trade-down. Or at least not burn value.
But burn value he did. Dallas dropped from 18 to 31 and netted only the 74th overall choice (pick 12 in the third round). Going by the old Jimmy Johnson draft chart, that's surrendering 80 'value points' (900 points for pick 18, 600 points for pick 31 and 220 points for pick 74). Now it's fairly widely accepted that the original Jimmy chart is at least somewhat outmoded, and Jerry said that Dallas has a "different chart" than the one the Jimster devised.
But here's the rub - under the new CBA, first round salaries have drastically dropped as a percentage of the cap relative to their explosion in the 90's and early 2000's. Assuming player talent distribution is fairly constant, premium first-round choices should be worth MORE than they were because you're getting a premium player for much less cap impact than you used to.
San Francisco held (and still holds) a bevy of picks - two in the second, two in the third, and compensatory picks at the back of Rounds 4 and 7. Eleven dudes ain't making the roster of last year's NFC Super Bowl representative, so San Fran had to be willing to spend. Failing to net the Niners' second selection in Round 2 (#61 overall, 292 value points) rather than #74, or at LEAST getting them to chip in their original 4th rounder (#128 overall, 44 value points, backstopped by a non-tradeable compensatory three spots later) as a sweetener doesn't shine a good light on Jerry's wheeler-dealer skills.
But it takes two to tango, and maybe San Fran was the only game in town - and they had some bargaining power in that Eric Reid was likely going to be on the board at 22 where the Rams were auctioning their pick. So we'll give Dallas a second semi-pass and say they got what they could in terms of potential value.
But would that potential value be realized?
My strong hypothesis about Dallas' intentions is this - they were locked into taking an offensive lineman with their first choice come hell or high water. And good on Jerry for realizing the need - everything East of Nate Livings' right shoulder was a flat-out fiasco for Dallas last season. After the trade-down, I mused in the draft thread that someone like Oregon's Kyle Long might not be a bad move at 31 - he's a raw but athletic and talented guy who could play guard or right tackle. Unfortunately, the Bears - who have also had a small spot of O-line dysfunction - thought the same thing and scooped Long at #20. The pick prior, the Giants had nabbed Syracuse's Justin Pugh - another RT/RG candidate. I'd be willing to lay some coin that if Dallas' 2013 draft chart ever leaks, one or both of those gents will be sitting high on it with a first-round grade. And plenty of scenarios had the whole first round elapsing without either of them hearing Goodell call their name, so it wasn't the worst expectation that one of them would be on hand at Pick 31.
But neither of them was, and panic set in.
Panic is the only real way to explain grabbing Travis Frederick at 31. I'm not trying to bag on the dude - he's a fairly physical and well-schooled Wisconsin lineman who's at least unlikely to get deposited in Romo's lap by any DT with a pulse. But the uniform scouting consensus on his negatives - a lack of flexibility, bad foot speed, short arms and iffy ability to hit targets in space - makes him extremely unlikely to be a true plus player on the OL. He can fight in a phone booth, and can probably play right guard if Phil Costa proves worthy of the center spot, but absolutely does not project the ceiling you've got to have as a first-round interior OL selection.
With 99% certainty, Frederick was going to be available when Dallas made its second-round selection at #47. And with an extra third-rounder in the bag, you could comfortably have dealt your fourth rounder to jump up a few slots if you started getting nervous. But it was OL or bust for Jerry, and Cowboys fans are now hoping they didn't end up with a bust of an OL - a position where Dallas' evaluation history over the last decade has earned them precisely zero benefit of the doubt.
The bottom line is this - your mission in the draft is to maximize value. From every evaluative angle - the players passed on, the picks received, and the first round selection made - Dallas did exactly the opposite. Outside of New England and arguably Buffalo, EVERY SINGLE TEAM IN THE LEAGUE looks to have gotten more tangible long-term benefit from their first round selection(s) than Dallas did. And for a team with numerous holes and a rapidly closing contention window (if indeed that window is truly open at all), that's a crying shame.
But, I suppose, not a surprise.
Like any other case of VD, this one could burn Cowboys fans for a long, long time.