The '05 Supplemental Draft is coming up next week. In an explanatory and commemorative piece, Will Parchman of the Cowboy Roundup argues that Dallas' selection of Steve Walsh in the '89 supplemental draft unwittingly paved the way for the Cowboys' mini-dynasty of the early '90s.
For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of the supplemental draft, the NFL allows players who have lost their college eligibility to enter the NFL after the April draft but before training camp starts. In effect, the supplemental is the NFL's version of Christmas in July; any team can select a player now, but forfeits that pick in next April's lottery.
In '89, Dallas had just completed Jimmy Johnson's first draft, selecting Troy Aikman with the top overall pick. When U. of Miami QB Steve Walsh declared for the supplemental draft, interest in him was high, as he had produced a stellar record in the Hurricanes' pro offense. Despite having Aikman in house, the lure of Johnson's former college QB was too strong and Dallas added Walsh to their collection. (The draft order in the supplemental draft is identical to the order that April.)
Walsh battled Aikman for a year and a half, before losing the duel and being dealt to New Orleans during the '90 season. How did his brief career elevate J.J.'s Cowboys into the NFL pantheon, especially when its 1-15 '89 record would have given Dallas the top pick in '90 had it not selected Walsh?
Parchman sees it as one of those happy accidents of history; the top two picks in the '90 draft were QB Jeff George, selected by the Colts, and Penn State RB Blair Thomas, who went to the Jets. Had Dallas passed on Walsh and kept the top pick, he reasons, they might well have taken Thomas and missed out on Emmitt Smith, whom the Cowboys traded up to select at pick 17.
I believe taking Walsh was one of the biggest mistakes Johnson ever made, one that almost undid his team in its formative stages. Right after the '90 draft, Jimmy was asked who he would have taken with the top pick had he still owned it. He mentioned that the player at the top of Dallas' board was Junior Seau, and that he probably would have been the guy. Back then I was a regular reader of The National, the short-lived, national, sports-only newspaper. Their coverage of the '90 draft was written by Chris Mortensen, who was actually earning his money digging up solid information. He does so occasionally on ESPN, but they've really muzzled him, giving more air time to John Clayton, who is not half as good as Mort was in his prime.
But I'm digressing. Mort was writing in the days before the draft that Jimmy was desperately trying to trade up from the 21st pick for a shot at DT Cortez Kennedy, whom he had coached at Miami. Kennedy was taken third overall by Seattle. Seau went to San Diego with pick five.
This is the damage of using the supplemental pick on Steve Walsh. Had it passed on Walsh and placed more faith in Aikman, Dallas likely would have walked out of day one with Seau AND Emmitt, or Kennedy AND Emmitt. (And this is before we consider the friction Walsh's selection created between Aikman and Johnson.)
But wait, as the old Ginsu knife ads used to say, there's more. After the '90 draft, Syracuse WR Rob Moore came out early, as Walsh had the year before. The draft order for the supplemental was the same as it had been that April, which means Dallas got first crack at him. Being gun shy after the Walsh fiasco, Jimmy passed on Moore and the Jets took him with pick two. The Dallas Morning News reported then that the Patriots offered their #1 in 91 and another high pick to Dallas if the Cowboys would select Moore and swap him to New England. Jimmy considered it but passed.
Let's go back in the wayback machine and play what if:
IF Dallas had passed on Walsh, it could have gotten in the spring of '90: Seau/Kennedy, Emmitt AND either Rob Moore or N.E.'s pick, which turned out to be the #1 overall in '91. Dallas traded up to get it anyway, and took Russell Maryland, but again, if Dallas had passed on Walsh and picked Moore, it could have had the #1 pick three years in a row, and had three #1s in first round of '91 (#1, #12 and #13 overall, instead of the #1 and #12 the team used on Maryland and Alvin Harper).
In short, Walsh cost Dallas a sure chance at at least one and possibly two Pro Bowl players. Seau is a lock for Canton. Kennedy was a multiple Pro Bowler for Seattle, until knee injuries short-circuited his career. Imagine how much better the Cowboys would have been with either of these defensive studs in the lineup? The team might have added another Lombardi trophy to the collection.
Jimmy's shrewd drafting eye diminished the damage, but selecting Walsh was a mistake, any way you slice it. A big mistake. He is a reminder of how fragile a winning team can be, and how much luck factors into the creation of a champion. Dallas has been sparing in its use of the supplemental draft since Walsh's flameout. His memory will likely keep the Cowboys out of the action again next week.