Almost everyone who watched the video feed from the Dallas Cowboys war room on day 1 of the NFL draft, including me, believes that head coach Jason Garrett and scouting director Tom Ciskowski were far from happy with the decision by Jerry and Stephen Jones to trade down with the San Francisco 49ers. It clearly looked that the owner/gm and executive vice president, who happen to share half a genome, overrode their experts in the room and made a rather typical Jerry Jones move. Then when Dallas went on the clock again, the team was in a bit of a panic mode. Clearly, they were wanting to do something to address the problems on the offensive line, at least partly because the team had made a commitment to Tony Romo to do just that as part of the negotiations on his contract extension, and the OL talent was flying off the board at an unprecedented rate in the first round. They wound up with Travis Frederick, who is almost certainly seen as no better than a second round talent. They passed on all the players who were taken from 18 to 30, and there will always be speculation about what might have been.
This raises some major concerns. Overriding the scouts is never a good thing. The underlying assumption is that the GM knows more about how to draft than the guys who have spent the last year watching and digging and probing and analyzing the players on the team's draft board. And disregarding the input of the coaches meant the GM and executive VP think they can made a better call than the people who are responsible for game planning and fitting talent into the roster. This is a recipe for disaster. And as I had worried when the indications started to build that the dream targets for the Cowboys were all going to go before 18, it did pretty much turn into Draftmaggedon here at BTB.
But with a very good second and third day in the draft, the Cowboys not only averted outright catastrophe, but wound up taking significant steps towards major change in the offense, and grabbing two outright draft bargains in Terrance Williams and Joseph Randle. And if Travis Frederick turns out to be a long-time starter, this draft in retrospect may look to be very good. Frederick, after all, was chosen at a time when there weren't any legitimate first round talents left, and 31 is a lot closer to the second round than 18, so his value does make more sense where he was taken. And speaking of value, there are some indications that he is not just bringing skill and smarts to the offensive line, as explained in an interview with his former college coach Bret Bielema.
On whether Frederick has a nasty streak:
"Unfortunately, he has an extreme nastiness. I had to get on him a few of times. He broke a couple guys' arms and wrists by throwing them down on the ground and whacking them a little bit after the play, on our own team. ... There were a couple players this year in our league, Michigan State, Illinois, had some premier defensive tackles over the years and he took a lot of pride when he had the face-to-face competition with those guys."
While I like me some nasty on the O line, and hope this is contagious, the way this came about clearly was not the way a team should run the draft. And yet, Frederick addresses a serious need (and will now shift the argument from "Dallas never drafts O line early" to "Dallas never drafts D line early"). Based on the evaluations of him in college, there is every reason to expect he will become that long term anchor in the middle of the line. And if Dallas does see the rest of the draft pan out, getting two or three other starters and some quality backups out of it in the long run, then it will be a success.
Therein lies the quandary. We, as Cowboys fans, want to see this work out. We want to see all the draft picks do well and get a return on the investment. And if they do, Jerry Jones is likely to do this same kind of stuff again. That is not the path to greatness.
There is no question that the trade was a gamble. There was certainly no way to know that a player of Williams' caliber (he was seen by some as a borderline first round talent) was going to be there at 74 to make the trade look so much better. Just as Morris Claiborne represented two picks last year, Frederick and Williams basically cost the Cowboys one pick, and in that light it looks like a very, very good value. Picking Frederick himself was a bit of a reach, and was something of a panic move as the top offensive line talent was going faster than Leon Sandcastle with a cheetah taped to his back. And yet things largely fell into place.
Not all questions were addressed, of course. The right tackle issue was not clarified, and it looks like the team is going to have to part with some of its extremely scarce cap space to go for a free agent. Tyson Clabo is reported to be the first choice of the team, with Eric Winston maybe as a fallback. And it looks like Jerry Jones was right when he said the team feels it has the horses it needs on the defensive line. Those positions are probably going to be the top draft priorities next year. As for why they didn't address them, Bob Sturm pointed out in a long piece that the team just had way too many needs to address them all with seven picks - and that is another motivator that the Jones family had to go for the trade.
They at least got one other need addressed, and with the situation on the roster, it is not inconceivable that all seven draftees will make it onto the final 53, along with two or three UDFAs. The numbers just work out that way.
So the dissonance we observed in the war room may have been because the guy that owns the team and the guy that will wind up owning a third of it were trying to address things from a strategic view, while the coaches and scouts were wanting to stick to the board. On day two, for whatever reasons, the evidence seems to point to the team going back to following the board. I think Gavin Escobar was the highest rated player they had, although that also may have been a second gamble on Williams continuing to fall to 74. But the rest of the draft clearly looks like it was given back to the scouts. They made no reaches for OT or DL, sticking with players the team clearly had high marks on. I think by the time they got out of the first round, they just saw the OL and DL prospects all dried up for them because of the early runs on these types.
I find myself hoping that the draft works out really well, but scared of the implications for the future. If the team does well this year, it will just reinforce in Jerry Jones' mind that he can make these daring moves, and pull them off. I think the team had a combination of luck and some good scouting past the first round, combined with a very unusual distribution of talent in the draft this year. But I don't think that is how Jerry or even Stephen Jones would see it, and that scares me.
And if these seven players are not what we hope they are, then Jerry Jones will probably not learn much anyway. We would likely see him being more inclined to take a chance if the Cowboys have another mediocre year. That would be the ultimate lose/lose scenario.