One of my personal credos is that the day you stop learning is the day you start dying. I always seek to gain knowledge and gather lessons about life and the things I am interested in. Like, don't take the words All You Can Eat literally. Never leave with someone you met after you lost count of how many rum and cokes you have had. And when everybody thinks they know something, it is not necessarily true.
When I attempt to analyze the Dallas Cowboys, I always try to draw some idea of the big picture. It comes, I suppose, from a lifetime of looking at the world with a somewhat skewed perspective. I like to, or at least try to, see patterns and themes that are not obvious to everyone. So when I look at the 2012 Draft, I feel like I learned, or, in some cases, reinforced some things I already believed about the team. Here are a few of them:
1. The draft process is a team effort - and Jason Garrett, not Jerry Jones, is really in charge. This is an ongoing debate around here, but this draft completely put the issue to rest in my mind. I do think there is one thing that Jerry may have control over, and that is whether the team should go ahead with a trade. It's his money, and I think he has to be on board for one to take place. But outside of that, I firmly believe Jason Garrett directed the draft, and he is very good at using the inputs of the rest of the coaching staff and the scouts.
Supporting evidence for this, and some other things I think I know after the jump.
One thing I found very revealing was the account Mickey Spagnola had on the mothership of how the Morris Claiborne trade came about. The team ran myriad mock drafts and worked through as many possible trade scenarios as they could think of. The staff obviously talked about Claiborne, but had a simple assessment of their chances to get him.
"Probably none," admitted Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, "but we had a lot of conversations on who we would have traded up for."
Maybe this guy. Maybe that guy. Maybe a few spots for him. But as the draft drew closer, they did play this "what if" game: What if we could trade up high enough to draft basically whoever we wanted? What if we could get the No. 2 player on our board, which just happened to reflect the PFW board, Morris Claiborne?
By Thursday morning, the Cowboys decided Claiborne was the only guy worthy enough of trading way up for in the first round, of making a bold enough move to possibly forfeit their second-round pick for the highest rated non-quarterback on their board who just so happened to play one of what is considered the top three impact positions in the NFL: Quarterback, elite pass rusher and cornerback.
So around noon Thursday, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones, while calling around, just so happened to hook up with the St. Louis Rams, letting them know he would be interested in trading up for their sixth pick if the draft played out to their liking. One thing led to another, and the two sides agreed the price would be a second-round pick, a relative steal for the Cowboys to jump eight spots from their 14th spot.
Notice that this was not a Jerry Jones operation. It was a staff decision, and Stephen Jones ultimately put it in place as a contingency. And then when the very thing the team did not think would happen began to unfold, they were ready, and already in total agreement on what to do.
But there was almost a wrench thrown into the works. When I saw this, I nearly had a panic attack.
Well, as the story goes, Stephen Jones lets St. Louis know he was ready to execute the previously agreed upon deal. Then the Rams tried to pull a fast one. They wanted a second and now a fourth, or come on guys, when Stephen balked, how about a second and a fifth. Stephen Jones held strong. No, a second, a deal is a deal. The Rams finally relented, and when the trade was executed, it became obvious to all paying attention just who they were trading up for.
So I am fairly sure that Jerry Jones has taken a step back from trying to run the draft himself. I mean, on top of everything else, the fact the team did pass over several "bigger" names to take the players they wanted shows a lack of Jerry intervening, I believe.
2. Jason Garrett is going to build his team the Cowboy Way. Period. Rabblerousr has already laid out the case for this in the related article I referenced above. And I think this is an outstanding approach. He is making this team in the image he has for it. The message is getting out in a hurry: You will play the role on this team that it needs, or the team does not need you. I think this will bring in players that not only help the team, but that we will really enjoy rooting for. And it has already sent some players packing who do not want to accept it, and it is going to send more. The next casualty may be Mike Jenkins, who has reportedly asked the team to trade him.
Jenkins gave the team some good years, but now there are clearly at least two players on the team that could push him down the depth chart in Claiborne and Brandon Carr. I think this may be reason enough to see him move on.
3. The Cowboys think they have the offensive line issues under control. The fact that the team did not use a single pick on the offensive line, in a draft that arguably was very much built to fill needs (albeit with the best fits the team thought were available at each draft spot), and with a class that was reportedly rich in interior line prospects, confirms this suspicion I have had for a while. They did add some UDFA possibilities, but a UDFA is always a long shot. I think that the team clearly feels that the Yuglies are going to be significantly improved, and that Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings are the answer for any questions the Yuglies can't handle.
This is perhaps the most controversial thing about the overall plan for the Cowboys' 2012 season. It shows a lot of faith in Mike Woicik and in whatever progress the team has already seen. I will freely confess to being a big Jason Garrett supporter, and by extension I support the assistants he has brought in. This reflects back on point 2 above, because JG has remade his staff the same way he is remaking the roster. Most of the coaches are his hires to replace the Wade Phillips regime, and I feel the few holdovers must be fully bought into his process to still have their jobs. So I am putting my faith in Jason and Bill Callahan to have this right. The Cowboys' future, and Tony Romo's health, depend on it.
4. There is a unified plan to everything the team does. It all fits together. It is not random or impulsive. Free agency was built to provide some answers for the key questions facing the Cowboys, and then draft was used to build on that. Jason Garrett is the master director behind this. He has a lot of trust in his assistants, as evidenced by how much influence Rob Ryan seemed to have in the war room this year, but I firmly believe that Jason is the man who makes the RKG/WKG call on every player that comes to the team, through any path. The big board was JG approved.
This is what distinguishes the elite programs from the the rest of the pack. Dallas is following an old adage: If you want to be successful, find people who are successful, and figure out how act like they do, and do what they do. Jason played under Jimmy Johnson, and he learned a lot there. Not just the positive lessons, but the negative ones as well, I am sure. And you can bet he studies the other NFL programs that are perennially at the top of the league. There is nothing wrong with stealing ideas, if you steal the best ones.
5. Nobody is unhappy to get the call from the Dallas Cowboys. I noticed during the draft that several players looked, shall we say, less than enthused when their names were called. I felt that Mark Barron, for one, was not all that thrilled to be going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And I think the video of Andre Branch getting his call from the Jacksonville Jaguars showed that everyone but him was celebrating at first. And Kirk Cousins seems frankly puzzled by his selection by the Washington Redskins, apparently to be the backup to Robert Griffin III.
By contrast, Morris Claiborne openly wept with joy over being picked by the Cowboys, following in the footsteps of Dez Bryant. I cannot remember ever seeing a player that did not look forward to wearing the star. Even after the past few years of frustration, Dallas is still the gold - or maybe we should say silver - standard among a bunch of baser metals. And I think this also fits in with the whole RKG thing Garrett has created. Players like the kind of atmosphere that has been created in Dallas, and they like what it says about them to be invited to join it.
That may sound like some homeristic, Kool-Aid swilling bombast, but look at the interviews. Look at what the players say. They talk like they are coming to the defending Super Bowl champion, not an 8-8 also-ran. They are almost universally grateful to be coming to work for Jerry Jones and his coaches.
And quite frankly, with this draft, and more importantly with the leadership on this team, I don't think the Cowboys are going to be also-rans much longer. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some swilling to do.