Jerry Jones has a reputation, at least in the eyes of some, for being a meddling owner who causes more challenges for his franchise than it can overcome. That image has some root in fact, but there are other situations where the boss has been the positive driving force for the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2005 Bill Parcells had just brought heresy to the Metroplex in the form of his 3-4 defense. The Cowboys, as the offspring of the father of the 4-3 scheme, were not geared to the new concept. The team had to make some fast and productive moves to implement the Tuna’s defense.
Their best hope was that they owned both the 11th and 20th selection in the first round and there were some interesting prospects in the draft.
Speculation around the league at the time was that Dallas would first fill the need for an edge rushing outside linebacker, while the head coach was thinking more along the lines of strengthening his defensive line. Aside from Parcells, the consensus in the Cowboys war room was to get the pass rusher first.
That decision made, it did not get any easier although it appeared that there would be no way the Cowboys could get the selection wrong. There were two top-rated edge rushing outside linebackers available
Dallas went on the clock with Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware both still available. With both players graded out at approximately the same level, a good argument could be made in favor of either man.
Football’s Future had strong praise for Merriman after he decided to forego his senior season at the University of Maryland.
Shawne Merriman was an instant contributor for the Terps as a freshman. Even though he started just one game, he finished the season with 49 tackles, 6 for loss, and 5 sacks. He improved on every major stat the next year as a sophomore, where he tallied 55 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 8.5 sacks. He again improved his production this past season, as he finished with 85 tackles 17 for loss, with 8.5 sacks.
Pound for pound, Merriman may be the best athlete in the entire draft. He is an awesome athlete. He has a great build for a linebacker, has great speed, and has very good lateral agility. He is explosive up the field and can really put pressure on the quarterback. He has the ability and experience to play up or down in the pros.
Demarcus is instinctive and plays with good field vision. Ware shows nice flexibility to leverage at the point of attack and has the lateral slide to avoid blocks on the move. He is a solid wrap-up tackler who can punish runners with his hitting ability. He shows good hand usage and extension to stave off the blockers trying to get into his chest, but if they lock on, he can be neutralized. He will then try to overcompensate, taking wrong angles to the ball or fail to control his momentum by getting too far upfield to make the play.
He will need to add bulk in order to remain a down lineman, but his frame may be at maximum growth potential. If he moves to linebacker, he is better suited to operate as a weak-side rush linebacker in a 3-4 alignment in order to get value from him immediately.
When they compiled their final ratings for the draft class, NFL Draft Scout had both men ranked second at their positions. Merriman was viewed as a DE in the NFL while Ware was rated as a 3-4 OLB.
As either man able to fill the need for a pass rush in Dallas, the choice was certainly a tough one.
With similar evaluations and with Merriman having faced some better competition at the college level, it would have been easy for the Cowboys to give a slight edge to Merriman, but in the end it came down to what the Cowboys decision makers had watched on tape.
"I can still remember some of the plays we watched on tape when he was at Troy. They were playing LSU and they were backed up about the 10-yard-line and they ran a draw or something. He came up the field, turned the corner, accelerated back and made the tackle on the back. You'd see plays all day long like that with him.” - Mike Zimmer
Jones made the final decision, overruling his head coach who wanted Marcus Spears, and the Dallas Cowboys used the 11th pick of the draft to select DeMarcus Ware, leaving Merriman for the San Diego Chargers who drafted next.
Neither man had a career worth sneezing at, especially for their first three seasons in the NFL, where Merriman actually had slightly better numbers than Ware.
|Shawn Merriman||DeMarcus Ware|
It was after injuries started having an impact on Merriman’s performance that the Cowboys were proven to have made the better selection. Ongoing issues with his knee and foot, along with problems limited Merriman over his final three seasons with San Diego.
During the same stretch that Merriman was sidelined, DeMarcus Ware busied himself earning Pro Bowl and All Pro honors with the Cowboys. When Merriman retired from the game in 2012 after a short and unsuccessful run with the Buffalo Bills, Ware was still delivering results for the team that drafted him.
It was Jerry Jones who ultimately made the choice to select Ware instead of Merriman and the results speak for themselves. This is one choice that even the most adamant critic would have to admit Jerry got right.