Way back in 2005, the Dallas Cowboys entered the draft with two first-round picks. Anticipation was high for what the Cowboys would do during the draft; when you have pick #11 and #20, you should come way with some solid firepower. The Cowboys did that.
With pick #11 they took DeMarcus Ware. For just about a decade in Dallas, Ware was a sack machine and was one of the most-loved Cowboys players, and still is to this day. When the Cowboys transitioned out of a 3-4 to a 4-3, and faced a salary cap crunch, they had to let Ware go. He went on to win a Super Bowl with Denver.
There was a famous story that coach Bill Parcells wanted to draft Marcus Spears at pick #11 instead of Ware, but that Jerry Jones and others intervened and took Ware. The Cowboys eventually got Spears at pick #20 so it all worked out.
But what if that draft was re-done? You might have guessed that DeMarcus Ware would not last until pick #11. In fact, he goes much higher.
Original Pick: Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn
New Pick: DeMarcus Ware, EDGE, Troy
Over 12 seasons in the NFL, edge-rusher DeMarcus Ware piled up 138.5 sacks—ninth-most in league history. By his second season, Ware had hit double digits with the Dallas Cowboys. In his fourth season, Ware racked up 20 sacks and led the NFL in that category for the first time. He repeated the feat with a 15.5-sack outburst in 2010.
Pairing Ware and Jason Taylor would have given the Dolphins one of the most formidable pass-rushing duos in NFL history—and given quarterbacks in the AFC East nightmares.
Once the San Francisco 49ers righted their wrong and picked Aaron Rodgers over Alex Smith, the next player off the board was DeMarcus Ware. Ware and Jason Taylor in Miami would have bee a sight to see, but it would have robbed the Cowboys of one of their best all-time players and one of the most beloved by fans.
So now that their original pick at #11 was gone, what did the Cowboys do in this re-draft? They tried to replace him.
Dallas Cowboys #11
Original Pick: DeMarcus Ware, EDGE, Troy
New Pick: Shawne Merriman, EDGE, Maryland
After a standout career at Maryland, Merriman brought home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after tallying 10 sacks in 2005. By 2006, he led the NFL with 17 sacks. He piled up 12.5 in 2007 and appeared headed for the Hall of Fame.
Then the bottom fell out.
Merriman missed nearly the entire 2008 season with torn ligaments in his knee. Those knee issues (and a foot injury) limited him to four sacks in 2009. After just three games (and zero sacks) in 2010, Merriman was back on IR and done with the Chargers. By 2013, his NFL career was over.
Merriman’s career ended tragically, but just those first three seasons are enough to keep him in the top half of Round 1.
It’s hard to think of it now, but at the time there was a debate of who would be the better pass rusher in the NFL, Ware or Shawne Merriman. It was Merriman who was the more high-profile player coming out of a big school, Maryland, and for the first few years he actually topped Ware in sacks. But over the long run, Ware was consistent and durable while Merriman had a steroids suspension and an injury that eventually doomed his career.
Things sure would have been different in Dallas had this re-draft occurred. It’s hard to imagine Cowboys history without having DeMarcus Ware. In the real draft, the Chargers took Merriman with pick #12, right after Ware.
You’d probably think the Cowboys wouldn’t show up again in this draft until pick #20, the second of their first-round picks. But a late Cowboys draft pick of that year makes a rapid rise into the first round.
Original Pick: Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas
New Pick: Jay Ratliff, DT, Auburn
Back in the 2005 draft, Jay Ratliff fell all the way to the seventh round, in large part because he was considered undersized for his position. He wasn’t even invited to the scouting combine that year.
As it was, Ratliff was just ahead of his time—a preview of what a smaller, faster tackle could do to disrupt the pocket. He went to play 11 years in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. He was playing substantial snaps by his second season in the pros and made his first of four consecutive Pro Bowls in 2008.
From 2006 to 2011, Ratliff piled up 26 sacks, including 6.0 in that 2009 campaign in which he was also named a first-team All-Pro.
With Derrick Johnson already picked in the re-draft, the Chiefs grab a Cowboy. That’s an amazing jump for Ratliff, and it shows just how much value the Cowboys got when they selected him all those years ago. The Cowboys defensive line was sure on display in this draft.
For the Cowboys final pick, they move way from their defensive line and fix a position... wait for it, safety!
Dallas Cowboys #20
Original Pick: Marcus Spears, DE, LSU
New Pick: Nick Collins, S, Bethune-Cookman
Dallas can do better here by bolstering the secondary with a rangy free safety who would have looked good playing next to Pro Bowler Roy Williams on the back end of the Dallas defense.
Nick Collins didn’t last as long in the NFL as Spears did; a severe neck injury in 2011 ended his career. But while Collins was out there, he was one of the better free safeties in the league.
In those seven NFL seasons, Collins intercepted 21 passes, including seven in a 2008 season that saw him bring three picks back for a score. The small-school standout went to three straight Pro Bowls from 2008-2010, and was a starter for the Green Bay Packers team that won Super Bowl XLV.
Wow, seven interceptions in a season with three pick-sixes. The Cowboys never see that kind of production out of their secondary. Fixing the safety position all the way back then would have been an interesting choice over Spears.
Overall, though, the Cowboys lose big in this re-draft. Losing both Ware and Ratliff would cost the Cowboys two standouts on their defensive line. Thankfully it didn’t happen that way.