The draft finally arrives at 7 pm central time Thursday (which, of course, is Dallas time and the only really important one). With the clock finally, mercifully winding down to getting this thing going, Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett conducted a pre-draft press conference (you can check the video at DallasCowboys.com). Or you can read this and I'll tell you all the important stuff. If you do listen, you'll notice that I don't cover topics in the same order as they came in the video. I try to get to the good stuff first, at least today.
In the Twitterverse, there were some typical comments about Jerryspeak and how all three would at times carefully say very little concrete. And the camera apparently missed a big grin from the head coach while Jerry was largely shooting down the idea that Johnny Manziel might be a target for the Cowboys, which makes me think that they are very amused about the heated speculation linking Manziel to Dallas (and Jerry). But if you go to the last five minutes or so, you hear what I think was the most important thing to come out of the whole thing. I'll cover a lot of the material, but I want to jump ahead to the longest single answer I think Jerry gave to a question, as well as the following answer that Stephen gave to the final question of the session.
Jerry was asked about whether safety could be a priority, and he talked a bit about looking at prospects in any round and asking if they were better than the young players already on the team. And then he said there was something else he thought was very important. Here is the quote as best as I can transcribe it (any errors are due to my listening skills, Jerry's drawl, and his penchant for starting one sentence and switching to what sounds like another thought entirely halfway through).
With what Jason wants philosophically, with that, there are three or four ways to get there, and maybe two or three different personnel type groups to get there with. And so that when we look at glaring needs, that can be misleading sometimes if they come up a with a very good way to get it done differently. Believe it or not, you can do some of the same things with a tight end that you can with a, (Cole) Beasley. So we want to have the benefit of that when we're sitting in their evaluation, so, evaluations of players, as it would turn out, as we've spent a lot of time understanding some of the options that Jason would like to be looking at, whether it is on the defensive side of the ball or the offensive side of the ball. That gives us a lot of options. You'll hear of lot of times that a guy like Rod (Marinelli) will say "Boy, we just want to, want some, we've just gotta have some OOMPH, we've just gotta have some, um, we've gotta have somebody that needs two blockers. Or we've got to have some area of our (defensive) front that needs two blockers." Last year, we didn't have any area that didn't need but one blocker. And so we need two. 'Cause if we can get two blockers out of the thing, then we can do some things with a lot of the players that we've got right now and really help them have big years, too.
There is a lot going one (which is commonplace for long Jerryish answers) and it is certainly open to interpretation. But when I heard it, a couple of things seem clear to me: First, if you believe the Cowboys have to draft defensive linemen in the first round, or two in the first three rounds, you are not thinking like they are. They are not locked into anything. Based on other comments made earlier on the video, they will go with other positions if the team gets a much better player somewhere else than the one that fits the "need". It fits right in with Jason Garrett's earlier comment, which was probably the most important sentence of the press conference:
The worst mistake you can make is overdrafting for need and leave really, really good players on the board.
Jerry had said the same thing, though less concisely, earlier. It all makes me wonder just how much credence we should put into earlier statements, mostly from Stephen Jones, about the Cowboys not seeing the value in drafting a 1 technique defensive tackle. That whole part Jerry discussed about needing to tie up two blockers along the line of scrimmage could mean that the Cowboys could use a good 1 tech very effectively, and some of our assumptions about who the Cowboys might draft are, well, complete and utter, um, bovine digestive tract byproduct. Well, in the days leading up to the draft, the same will also apply to almost everything you think you know.
Stephen then was asked a question about using some of the seventh-round picks to trade into the sixth, and he basically told the questioner that he did not understand seventh-round picks. He characterized the view that seventh-round selections are just throwaway picks as the old, and incorrect, way of looking at them. He stated with a little emphasis that they are all opportunities to improve the team, and should be used that way. They allow the team to take advantage of hidden gems they have found, without having to compete for them in the UDFA market.
This all seems to show that the mix that Dallas seeks to find between position of need and best player available is weighted towards BPA. And Jerry makes it sound like the Cowboys are doing it that way because that is the way Jason Garrett does it.
I know I like to bring up my theory that Jerry and Stephen Jones have really handed over most of the operational control of the team to the head coach, but this interview was full of Jerry openly deferring to Garrett's leadership and philosophy. When added to the remarks Garrett made about the time it takes to remake a team, either he really is in control of most of the important stuff, or this is an incredibly thorough and well-executed deception. And Jerry Jones can be misleading, but I don't think he is this good at it.
- Garrett talked about remaking the team and comparing the way the team moved on from the old style, aging offensive line of big bodies and bringing in more athletic, mobile linemen to what it is now having to do with the defensive line. He tied that into how the team is constantly building, not rebuilding, and how it wants to get back to success without having to first fall back to 2-14. Jerry followed with a discussion of how he is on the same page with Garrett's overall philosophy, and talked about how this was the second season under the new defensive scheme despite the reversal of roles for Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin. He feels that will help.
- Jerry Jones said it is "not unlikely" that there will be a defensive lineman available and worth the 16th pick, meaning in normal English that they haven't given up on the idea of getting DL help in the first.
- No trades have been discussed yet. Looks like any serious moves will be worked out on draft day.
- Stephen said that the extra time before the draft this year has been useful in getting coaches and scouts on the same page. He does not feel the time has led to overanalysis, and he feels McClay, with his coaching experience, has been a very valuable addition. Later, though, he stated that McClay was not hired as a direct result of the Sharrif Floyd situation. (I have large grains of salt available for those who feel the need at this point.) He also discussed a thing he called "pod groups", where position coaches and selected scouts will analyze players at some positions that are clustered at a certain level of the draft with similar rankings, to really figure out who is the best choice for the Cowboys.
- Garrett added his take on the extra time, and said there was a lot of "healthy discussion" (which I, for some reason, heard as "yelling, screaming, and beating on the table"). He stated that scouts know much more about players than coaches, because all they do is evaluate prospects. Coaches get "impressions" from video, all-star games, the Combine, and pro days, all compressed into a short time period, but scouts have in depth knowledge. Communication is key to getting everyone on the same page.
- Quarterback got discussed from several angles. Jerry said the quarterback position is a strength of the team, and he included Kyle Orton and Brandon Weeden along with Tony Romo. The team has been talking with Orton, but exactly what was said was not disclosed. The team expects Orton will show for the mandatory practices and wishes he would make the voluntary activities, but Jones made it clear that the team is not factoring any consideration for Orton's future into the draft. A quarterback is not a priority. He did not completely dismiss any chance of drafting Johnny Manziel, but he came fairly close. With Romo expected to be healthy (and he was throwing the ball during the coaching/teaching session conducted earlier in the day), there is just no urgency to draft a quarterback. Or, as Jerry put it later, he is just not "gunned up" on what a rookie quarterback can bring to the team.
- Jerry also gave a bit more insight into why Dallas is not keen on drafting quarterbacks. He said that, first, they are all in on Romo and his back. But he elaborated on the fact that it is very difficult to evaluate a backup in the current environment. You can't really find a way to get them on the field, given how difficult it is to win games in the NFL anyway, and that means you may get to the four year evaluation point and not have any real idea of what the player is worth. He cited the failed Stephen McGee experiment as one reason the team is not eager to draft a quarterback, and surprisingly talked about how uncomfortable he was giving Romo his second contract, basically saying he was not sure at the time that Romo was the future of the team. That, he felt, did work out well, as shown by the big payout Romo got with the third contract.
- A stud receiver is not out of the question at 16. But in this case, as with anything not on the defensive line, the player has to clearly be better than any of the DL prospects left. While the Cowboys are not locked into DL, they are aware that it would be nice to get some good ones.
- When asked about where the team is, Jerry stated, rather bluntly, "8-8" before going on to discuss the hopes for improvement. Something about his expression and delivery told me that he being fairly realistic about things this year.
- Both Anthony Spencer and Tyrone Crawford are also progressing well, along with Henry Melton. All are hoped to be contributors to the defensive line problem this season. While we all know Melton is a 3 tech tackle, Spencer and Crawford's final assignments are pending what happens in the draft. Garrett mentioned that Crawford can, with a little adjustment to his playing weight, play any position on the line. Jerry made a point of praising Crawford, saying Jason Hatcher told him before leaving for the Washington Redskins that he is "the real deal". This was mocked a bit by some, but Hatcher stood by his statement.
There were other comments and details, but those are the biggest things. While there was a lot of avoiding direct answers, particularly on all things related to actual draft strategy, there was some good information, and as I have always maintained, Jerry Jones does not really lie that much. He just talks in circles and covers all sides of an argument until you aren't really sure what he said. That is why I was so interested in the long statement he made towards the end. It seemed to contain a little more direct information than his statements normally do.
Maybe that is why someone yelled "Last one" to the gathered reporters when he finished it.