Do you know how many premium draft picks (first- or second-round picks) the Cowboys have had since 2008?
They should have had 12, one pick in each of the first two rounds over six years. But they don't. They got an extra first-rounder in 2008 when they traded their 2007 first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a second-round pick in 2007 and a first-round pick in 2008. They then gave up their first-rounder in 2009 for Roy Williams and then proceeded to trade out of the second round for a third and a fourth. In 2012, they gave up their second-round pick to move up for Claiborne.
Which, if you've been keeping track, means the Cowboys have had 10 premium picks in the last six drafts. That ties them for the 23rd lowest total in the league over that span. Here's a look at the premium pick distribution for all NFL teams since 2008:
|Premium Draft Picks by Team, 2008-2013|
|T10||San Francisco||7||6||13||T23||San Diego||6||4||10|
The Cowboys, for what may have seemed like good reasons at the time, have given up too many premium picks over the last six years. I can already hear people saying, "But why limit it only to the first two rounds, why not include third round picks, and why start in 2008?" The simple answer is, because it doesn't make much of a difference either way. Here's a look at the number of Cowboys picks using a different time frame and including third-rounders. The figure in each cell shows the number of picks the Cowboys had and where that ranks in the NFL over the specific period.
|Cowboys Number of picks by round (NFL rank)|
|since 2008||since 2009||since 2010|
|1st & 2nd Round
||10 (23rd)||7 (27th)||7 (21st)|
|1st, 2nd, 3rd Round
||16 (24th)||13 (22nd)||11 (20th)|
Any way you look at it, the Cowboys are always ranked in the bottom third of the league. And the reason for that is fairly straightforward, as my esteemed colleague rabblerousr recently pointed out:
To my mind, this is the team’s greatest front office failing in the last five seasons. Too few picks in the premium rounds. What they haven’t done as well is understand the value of picks.
The draft is like the lottery; you’ll have a better chance at success when you buy more tickets. Teams like the Patriots have understood this; they accumulate as many premium picks as possible, knowing that there will be some busts. The Cowboys are always in "win now" mode, and don’t often have the patience to trade down or for a higher pick the following year (look at last year’s haul, helped by a trade down that netted them a second-day pick). When they trade up, they miss out on opportunities to build a deeper team.
When you initially saw the first table in this post that had the Patriots sitting smugly at the top with 18 premium picks in six years, you probably thought "Hot Diggity!" or, more likely, the R- or X-rated equivalent. And since rabble brings the Pats up as well, let's take a look at how New England got all those picks:
|History of Patriots premium draft picks, 2008-2013|
|2008||1||10||Traded for next year's pick||Traded 2007 first round pick (#28) to 49ers for 2007 fourth round pick (#110) and 2008 first round pick (#7). Then traded the pick (#7) plus a 2008 fifth round pick (#164) to Saints for 2008 first round pick (#10) and 2008 third round pick (#78).|
|2009||2||34||Player trade||Traded Matt Cassel, Mike Vrabel to Chiefs for 2009 second round pick|
|2009||2||40||Traded for next year's pick||Traded 2008 third round pick (#69) to Chargers for 2008 fifth round pick (#160) and 2009 second round pick (#47), then traded up from #47 to #40|
|2009||2||41||Trade down||Traded out of first round in two trades that netted a second rounder (#41) and two third-rounders (#73, #83)|
|2010||1||27||Original pick (traded down)||Traded out of #22 pick in two trades that netted a third rounder (#90)|
|2010||2||42||Original pick (traded up)||Traded up from #44|
|2010||2||62||Traded for next year's pick||Traded 2009 third round pick (#89) to Titans for 2010 second round pick (#47). Traded out of #47 in two trades that netted a third-rounder (#89) and fifth-rounder (#158)|
|2011||1||17||Player trade||Traded Richard Seymour to Raiders for 2011 first round pick|
|2011||2||33||Traded for next year's pick||Traded 2010 third round pick (#89) to Panthers for 2011 second round pick (#33)|
|2011||2||56||Traded for next year's pick||Traded 2011 first round pick (#28) to Saints for 2011 second round pick (#56) and 2012 first round pick (#27)|
|2012||1||21||Original pick (traded up)||Traded 2012 first round pick (#27), 2012 third round pick (#93) to Bengals for #21|
|2012||1||25||Original pick (traded up)||Traded 2012 first round pick (#31), 2012 fourth round pick (#126) to Broncos for #25|
|2012||2||48||Traded for next year's pick||Traded 2011 third round pick (#92), 2011 fourth round pick (#125) to Raiders for 2012 second round pick (#48)|
|2013||2||52||Trade down||Traded first round pick (#29) to Vikings for second round pick (#52), third round pick (#83), fourth round pick (#102), seventh round pick (#229)|
As Cowboys fans, especially after what looks like a successful trade in 2013 that brought the Cowboys Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams, we grown used to idea that trading down may be a good thing because it nets us extra picks.
Now think about your latest favorite mock draft. Odds are, it could be similar to the one proposed in the latest SB Nation mock draft, which has the Cowboys taking safety Clinton-Dix in the first round and DT Aaron Donald in the second round. Some might quibble with the picks, but the consensus is probably that those two players would be a pretty good haul. But now imagine how you would feel if that second round pick was taken away. As fans, we'd be royally ticked-off.
But that's exactly what the Patriots have been doing. They didn't get the bulk of their extra picks by trading down (highlighted in orange), they got them by trading for future picks (highlighted in green), and added two more through player trades (yellow). In fact, if you look closely at the table above, you'll see that with the exception of the 2013 draft, every Patriots draft since 2008 features at least one pick that's a direct result of trading for a future pick.
When you trade down, odds are you're exchanging one better player for two lesser players. Sure, there are exceptions, but as a rule, the higher the draft pick, the better the player.
When you're trading for a future pick, you're effectively exchanging a lesser player for a better player, just in the next year. And there's the crux: Many teams/GMs/coaches don't have the patience or the job security to think about developing a team for the long haul, because they want to win this year.
And this is the cardinal draft mistake many teams make: if you think a third-round pick is going to make the difference to your current season, you deserve nothing less than to be screwed out of next year's second-rounder by the Patriots. Again, of course there are examples where a third-rounder made a significant difference in his first year, but for every Jason Witten, I'll show you 20 Robert Brewsters or Jason Williamses.
In the table above, the Patriots traded away their third-round pick for a second-rounder in the following draft four times. If somebody were to offer the Cowboys next year's second-rounder for this year's third-rounder, should the Cowboys do it? Keep in mind that without that third-round pick, that third-round guard or linebacker you think is so critical for the 2014 season will not be drafted by the Cowboys.
When we talk about the draft, we often and quite liberally throw around the term "BPA" or Best Player Available. But we almost always limit that BPA to the current draft year and the current draft board. A very strong argument can be made that the BPA is always the player you can get a round higher in the next draft. But that's a point of view you can only afford if you view the draft primarily as a way to upgrade your talent, and not as a way to address roster holes.
If you need that second- or third-round pick this year, because you couldn't get the right guy in free agency or didn't have the cap space to sign the guy you wanted, then you're in trouble.
By the looks of it, the Cowboys are in trouble.