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Why the Cowboys finishing 6-10 and winning the NFC East is better than a top three draft pick

Be careful what you wish for., Cowboys Nation.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a line drawn in the sand between Dallas Cowboys fans who are still holding out for a possible playoff appearance and those eyeballing one of the top players in the upcoming NFL Draft. Recently, my colleagues Tom Ryle and Terence Watson pondered this very thing. Both made some really good points while arguing their case.

For a lot of us, our minds are made up. One thing is viewed as clearly more favorable than the other. But for many others, we are torn as to what we should be rooting for. Do we want the Cowboys to win, or are we prepared to accept more losing to preserve that highly coveted top draft capital?

When examining both sides of the coin here, there are a couple factors that seem to get lost in the mix. Here is why the best thing for the Cowboys is for them to keep winning football games.

Good football teams win, bad football teams lose

The old cliché “you are what your record says you are” rings true for the most part. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that intervene that might cause a team’s record to not tell the whole story. Certainly the loss of Dak Prescott qualifies as such. Everyone should agree that this Cowboys team would be a better team with a healthy Prescott and they’d probably be in control of the division if that were the case.

While that’s an important element to take into account, there’s a lot more to it. Dak’s absence will account for something, but it shouldn’t spiral a team into the pit of misery. That is, of course, if they were otherwise a good football team, and here lies the problem. The Cowboys weren’t a good football team. Remember, they were 2-3 after they pulled out the win against the New York Giants when Prescott was lost for the season. And that includes that miraculous win against Atlanta with the watermelon onside kick. The Cowboys defense was a hot mess and the offense was turning the ball over left and right.

Early on, we all expected some things to get sorted out, and by the time they got into the swing of things, this Prescott-led Cowboys team would be ready to hang with the best of them. After Dak was lost for the season, any hope for a big year was tossed out the window. Even more detrimental to this team was how things weren’t being sorted out. The defense remained a mess, and an inept offense meant the Cowboys were getting blown out by more than 20 points.

It was easy to just write off the season, collect that majestic draft pick, and then start with a clean slate next year with Prescott under center. That’s fine, but this needs to be a good football team surrounding Dak if they’re to do anything in the future. How helpful is it to get great new draft capital if their previous draft picks aren’t developing into players who can help them win football games? Here is where my mind was at prior to the Vikings game.

The Cowboys need to play good football right now. If they don’t, that’s a problem that will surface again in the future. These growing pains from a new coaching staff need to start eventually getting worked out. We want to see the communication get better, and the right players utilized at the right spots. When these things happen, we hope to see a better football product on the field, and sure enough, things are slowly trending in that direction. The Cowboys won a football game on Sunday with a group of guys who played way better than they had been earlier in the year.

If the Cowboys turn a corner and go on to win the majority of their remaining games, they stand a great chance to take down the NFC East. That’s a prize that will come with an automatic home playoff game thanks to the rules of the NFL. While it won’t be something that will magically make them Super Bowl contenders, it will be a huge step in the right direction. The experience for the young players or the added excitement over what could happen on any given day is a bonus, but the real value is to build a winning culture in Dallas.

The key is picking the right players

If you are familiar with the Great Train Robbery known as the Herschel Walker trade, then you know how the Cowboys turned a slew of draft picks received in that deal into what eventually helped them build their ‘90s dynasty. While the trade itself was severely lopsided in the Cowboys favor (Dallas received three straight years of first- and second-round picks), it wasn’t the draft haul itself responsible for the Cowboys success, but rather what they did with it. Former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson laid it out perfectly,

“The key is not getting draft picks,’’ Johnson said. “The key is picking the right players. There’s been plenty of teams with a bunch of draft picks. The Rams, when they traded Eric Dickerson, made a similar trade to what I had with Herschel. Didn’t do a thing with it.

Having great draft capital is fantastic, but having the ability to effectively utilize those picks is even better.

You could venture to say that if the Cowboys held the 10th spot in the draft last year, they would’ve ended up with nearly the same draft haul. Teams view college players so differently that every year it’s the same song and dance about certain players falling in the draft. While it’s enticing to us on the outside to think of the possibilities of what could became of elite draft positioning, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Will McClay and company will be able to do plenty of great things regardless of where they’re picking in the draft. This team is coming off what seems like, at the moment, a phenomenal draft haul, and they accomplished that by patiently just picking right at the start of the bottom half of the draft order.

And let’s not deceive ourselves, these Cowboys players aren’t going to phone it in. They are grown men out there playing for their financial livelihood giving it everything they got. They’re not playing opossum. If they’re bad, they’re bad. Whether it’s the coaching, overall talent, or some combination, playing losing football would not paint a promising picture in Dallas. Being a good team is more important than being a bad team and gaining extra draft capital.

Almost every last place team in the divisions around the league had a top 10 pick last season. Bad teams remain bad teams, and it’s not always easy to get out of the hole. We don’t want the Cowboys to be a bad team. We want them to be a good team struck by a misfortunate of injuries who keep showing up on Sunday with some fight. Because it’s that type of team who will be better equipped to make a run at a Super Bowl next season.