Football is an interesting game. Most people only consider the current season but football is really a long game. Interestingly, many GMs only play the game for season in front of them. They play for as many quick wins as they can get to keep their job or for their owner to get butts in seats so the game isn't blacked out. But playing the long game can give you many advantages should be choose to be one of the relatively few teams to be dealt in.
The long game has rules. Many teams just fall into them randomly, but if you run a team smartly you can work the rules to your advantage. I believe Jason Garrett is playing the long game in a very unique way that has not yet been noticedThe most well known rule of the long game is draft order. Everyone knows that a higher draft position is advantageous as you get access to better talent. The most recent player and winner of this game was the Indianapolis Colts who put on only a modest attempt to win games each Sunday during the "suck for luck" competition and were rewarded with the best QB prospect in 10 years.
But there are other ways to play the game too. As I wrote about in the first Cowboys Supremacy article, building a very young core of players opens the Superbowl window for a long time. Instead of drafting 26 year old guards like the Eagles recently did, the Cowboys drafted Tyron Smith who could end up having a 15 year Cowboy career. The long game.
But there is a new game Garrett might be playing. I want to preface this as it is only speculation and I have no knowledge of what Valley Ranch will do in the future - but take this journey with me.
More draft picks is better than fewer draft picks. The best team of the last 10 years, the Patriots, know this and weave it into their draft strategy. But the Patriots' strategy has a bit of a flaw, they have to give away picks to get more picks. They trade down. If a trade is fair then, in theory, neither party gains. But what if there was a way to get draft picks without losing anything?
The NFL has something called compensatory picks. Compensatory picks can be as high as 3rd round picks and are awarded to teams that lose more players in free agency than they get. Most often this just happens randomly, a team can't spend in free agency and has their cupboard raided. They lose players, get picks, they don't think about it. But what if you wanted to play the long game?
The first thing you would need to do is make sure than in a certain year, let's just call that year 2013 for craps and giggles, you'd have to make sure you don't sign a lot of free agents. To do that you would probobly want to do a lot of stocking up in the previous year, and in this example that would be 2012.
Now I'm not saying, but all I'm saying is the Cowboys were more active in free agency in 2012 than they have almost ever been under Jerry.
Compensatory picks are largely awarded based on the size of the contract a player gets. Step 2 is after you've made sure you're not likely to spend in free agency is that you need something valuable to lose. The Cowboys have had some valuable pieces they could have let walk, but did otherwise. Let's look at their potential value and what the Cowboys have done.
Potential Pick: 4th rounder. Mike Jenkins is most likely to sign something like a 4 years $30 million contract that Carlos Rodgers recently got. This would be similar to the Stephen Bowen contract netting a 4th rounder.
Cowboys Actions: The Cowboys have been reportedly offered 4 trades but have turned them all down.
Cowboys Actions: The Cowboys franchised Spencer. If they had let him walk in free agency last year they would have received no compensatory pick due to all the acquisitions they made.
Potential Pick: 5th rounder
Cowboys Actions: They continue to keep Felix Jones heavily involved in the running game, helping to increase his free agent stock in the league
Is Garrett playing the long game here? In some years binge on young free agents to build your team. In others keep your powder dry and let your disappointing players like Mike Jenkins walk, netting draft picks in the process to keep refreshing your young talent.
Some might ask, what's a 4th rounder worth? Doug Free. What's a 3rd rounder worth? DeMarco Murray. If you play the long game you can lose nothing and pick up valuable pieces to a future championship team. Combine those pieces with a young core of players all under 23 years old, and young free agents like Brandon Carr (26) who can be around for a long time and you just might have a winning strategy in the long game - the game of building not just a Superbowl champion, but a dynasty.