In his recent series on the five biggest moments that contributed to the success of the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, rabblerousr ranked the decision to draft Zack Martin and pass over Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as the third most important. As you may recall, the national media was stunned and perhaps a little dismayed when this happened. They realized that a rich vein of stories about the impetuousness of Jerry Jones was not going to be given to them to use to perpetuate the meme about his ineptitude as a general manager. Their fascination with the possibilities of having the Manziel circus come to Dallas was apparent in the coverage months after the fact of the mythical "card snatched out of Jerry Jones' hand" story. Now that Manziel has elected to enter rehab for his problems with alcohol abuse and the ensuing out of control behavior, it is apparent just how big a storm of negative press the Cowboys avoided. And you know what kind of a storm I refer to.
Before anything else, it needs to be clear that this may be the best move for Manziel as he tries to salvage his staggering NFL career. He is a young and gifted man with obvious demons, and everyone should hope for the best for him.
But there also has to be a great sense of relief that Dallas was spared the experience of dealing with this. One of the best attributes of the way the Cowboys are being run with Jason Garrett as head coach is the unrelenting focus on doing things the right way, and something like this would have only served to interfere with that. Those that have been regular readers here are probably well aware that the strong consensus among the BTB staff was that the team was not going to take the risk of drafting Manziel. Clearly he had many red flags that made him an extremely poor fit for the image of the kind of player Garrett wants on his roster, usually referred to by the RKG shorthand. And Manziel was successful in a college system that relied on a very different set of tools than are required to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. He did not have to stand in the pocket while rapidly progressing through reads, and often got away with throwing to a general vicinity and relying on talented receivers like Mike Evans to come down with the ball. At best he was always a project, not an immediate pro passer. His phenomenal abilities to evade and run with the ball are useful, but not skills that can win many NFL games.
So Dallas fans can breathe a sigh of relief, and even indulge in a little schadenfreude about the travails of the Cleveland Browns. But the implications of this are not just about how there is not a flood of stories about dysfunction in Big D. When the Cowboys took Martin over Manziel, it finally was obvious to anyone who was willing to be objective that this was no longer the same organization. After many missteps since the end of Jimmy Johnson's tenure, Jerry Jones (and the management team he has now assembled) have figured out how to do it right.
The 13-5 overall record for the season is the most important result, but the NFL Executive of the Year award was due in no small part to the way Dallas utilized their first-round selection. More than anything else it shattered the image of Jones and his organization that so many still held. This concept was already outdated. From the very beginning of Garrett's tenure, the team had been making much better and more logical decisions about personnel, but this one move finally made those who have not been paying close attention to what was going on take notice.
This raises the question of just how important perception is when the team has a clear commitment to doing things in a well-thought-out and properly developed way. Certainly there is no indication that the many erroneous opinions expressed in the media had any impact on what the team actually did. Success on the field is the only thing that actually matters. If the Cowboys can maintain the momentum into next year, the way the team is covered will take care of itself. The only thing that perceptions of the team may affect is the willingness free agents may have to choose Dallas over another team when the money is about the same, but that is usually not much of a factor.
Fans are probably the ones most impacted by the coverage, crowing in delight when it is good and howling in rage when it is perceived as unfair or overly negative. It is very amusing when, as happened this year, all the "experts" are woefully wrong in dismissing the chances of the Cowboys, but it can also be disappointing when the projections are followed by a less successful campaign.
This year, Dallas has already been projected to be one of the better teams going into 2015. Not having to deal with the Manziel situation is just one thing that the team does not have to deal with. For now, the view of Jerry Jones and the entire Cowboys organization is rosy, based on a solid regular season and a postseason that fell just a few plays short in the divisional round. But now the cycle begins again, and the Cowboys face many decisions to make about their own free agents, who to sign from outside the team, and of course the strategy for the draft. We can feel a degree of confidence that the process will continue to work. And there was no greater boost for that confidence than when the team stuck to the plan in the 2014 draft and passed on a player who was not at all ready to be a success in the NFL.