It was a few minutes on day one of the NFL draft that has sparked angst and anger for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. With the team on the clock, almost everyone, including me, thought the obvious pick was Florida DT Sharrif Floyd. For those pitiful football junkies . . . er, devoted fans like me who were glued to the video feed from the Dallas war room, it was obvious that there were some strong feelings flowing, and the radio commentary at the time plus almost everyone in the media world who has written about it back that up. Instead of making what seemed to be an easy and smart decision, the Dallas Cowboys, and more specifically Jerry Jones and his son Stephen, decided to trade down.
We have thoroughly dissected the drawbacks and benefits of the trade itself, with a general (although not total) consensus emerging that the team probably had a net gain in getting both Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams out of the deal. But for a couple of days, the logic behind not taking Floyd was unexplained.
Now, the two people with the most insight into why this happened, assistant director of player personnel (which is really the head of scouting) Tom Ciskowski and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin have gone on record with the reasoning.
Blame it on the 4-3.
Mike Fisher said there was more than one reason why Floyd appeared to be the right pick. According to his sources, he claims Floyd was the seventh-ranked player overall on Dallas board, he was the top ranked remaining prospect , and one of just a few still there with a first round grade. But Jones and Jones, like the GMs of 21 other teams, decided not to pick Floyd. It certainly looked like Ciskowski was arguing for sticking with the board and taking Floyd in the video. However, he acknowledges that the scouts' job is to provide the information and then turn the decision over to the GM and head coach. And there was one problem with the work the scouts had done: They had been working on the evaluations for almost a full year. During most of that time, they were looking for players for a 3-4 defense.
In an interview on KRLD-FM, Kiffin said the same thing. He stated that "everyone" discussed the decision, which is a relief to some nervous nellies - uh, like me - who worried about how Jerry Jones might be reverting to his old ways, and Kiffin also said he feels that the decision was the right one for the Cowboys.
Not taking Floyd was, for many, compounded in the later rounds of the draft and the UDFA signings when Dallas did not pick up a single additional defensive lineman. Going into the draft, that was seen by all the experts in the media as one of the top priorities for the Cowboys, and the absolute failure to address that is undoubtedly one of the reasons Dallas is being panned in so many places for its draft (I'm looking at you, Yahoo). Someone made this decision that is going to have a direct effect on implementing the 4-3. You have to wonder who could have saddled Kiffin with this huge burden, right?
Well, not everybody. As a matter of fact, the decision to go all linebackers and no line for the front seven was largely unknown or at least ignored just about everywhere except at Valley Ranch. But it does show that the draft did fit a coherent plan for the team.
I got a little curious about Kiffin's description of the jam-packed defensive line meeting, and ran through the roster at the mothership. It is a little confusing because it is still using 3-4 terminology, but when you add in DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, and Kyle Wilber, who are projected to play defensive end, there are thirteen defensive linemen currently under contract for the Cowboys, not counting Josh Brent, who is likely to have other commitments involving state correctional facilities. You might want to remember that they signed several defensive linemen during free agency after Kiffin and his trusty sidekick and line coach Rod Marinelli were hired. The decision has apparently been made that they have sufficient talent, with Ware, Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore and Tyrone Crawford providing the core for this unit. In a 4-3, they will probably go into the season with eight or so DEs and DTs combined on the roster. There are not that many holes to fill with the other candidates, and it seems they are confident they can do so. Kiffin said he was impressed with what he sees, although he refused to single out any players specifically pending getting them out on the practice field.
I do take everything coming out of the Cowboys staff with a grain of salt, since they all are paid by Jerry Jones and unlikely to publicly undermine him. But I don't see any overt dishonesty here, just perhaps a little downplaying of the emotions that were present in the war room. And it is, quite frankly, very reassuring to find out some of the reasoning behind what is going on, especially since it seems so, well, reasonable.