Congrats to Cortez Kennedy — the Big One Who Got Away

The NFL announced its latest group of Hall of Famers today.  Some Cowboys fans may wonder what happened to Charles Haley’s candidacy, but I was intrigued by the selection of Cortez Kennedy, who in different circumstances might have been a Cowboy.

Kennedy played for Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami, and was a junior when Jimmy joined the Cowboys in 1989.  Kennedy was an All-American that year, and one of the top prospects in the 1990 draft.

Back in those days I was a regular reader of The National, a short-lived sports news daily.  Think USA Today, but with sports only.  The National’s NFL man was one Chris Mortensen, the now and long time NFL insider at ESPN.  In the days prior to the ’90 draft Mortensen reported that Jimmy was working feverishly to move up and draft his old tackle Kennedy.  He failed.

On draft day, scuttlebutt around Valley Ranch had the Cowboys working to move up from the 21st pick, which they had acquired in the Herschel Walker deal, to draft one of Lamar Lathon or James Francis, two big linebackers they coveted.   Dallas failed in this endeavor too.  The Bengals grabbed Francis with the 12th pick and the Oilers took Lathon 14th.  Jimmy finally pulled off a deal, swapping places with the Steelers to select Emmitt Smith.

Johnson left the draft with a first ballot Hall of Famer in his basket, but he could have picked two. Johnson forfeited his ’90 first rounder to pick Steve Walsh, his college QB at Miami, in the 1989 supplemental draft.  Jimmy probably never dreamed that his first team would go 1-15, and that the forfeited pick would have been the first in the draft.

Who might it have been?  We know it might have been Kennedy.  Mortensen’s reporting made that clear.  It might have been a linebacker the Cowboys rated even higher than Lathon and Francis.  Johnson admitted at some point after the draft that the top player on Dallas’ board that year had been USC standout Junior Seau, whom the Chargers drafted 5th overall.  Had Johnson showed more early faith in Aikman and kept his pick, one of these Hall of Famers would have preceded Emmitt.  (Seau isn’t in yet, having retired last year, but there’s no doubt he’ll get in once he’s eligible.)

Johnson escaped second guessing because Dallas flipped Walsh to the Saints in 1990 for 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks.  The quantity of this haul — and Aikman’s development — shielded Johnson from closer scrutiny of the quality the Walsh move cost him.  (Those Saints picks were mid-rounders.)

Jimmy built a nasty team, but how much better would those ’90s defenses have been with Cortez Kennedy playing alongside Charles Haley?  Or with Junior Seau as their quarterback?

Even the best drafters make mistakes.

Food for thought on the day when Cortez Kennedy punched his ticket to Canton.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • White Wolf

    I was a daily reader of the National, and so were 5 other guys that used to borrow it everyday after I finished reading it.

  • Jarhead

    the giants are officially the luckiest thing going…..three fumbles, they get them all back, no less than wes welker drops a pass when he was wide open…..gints get the ball back….

    ugh.   if welker makes that catch…..

    well, i think the pundits will have to seriously debate whether eli is better than his brother.

    meantime, im going to go throw up.

    • ym

      The pundits should debate whether there’s any team where the ball rolled their way more.  They got to play the Cowboys to get to the playoffs, a sorry Falcons team, a Packers team that forgot the basics, a fortunate fumble by the 49ers, and now this.

      • Raja

        well, when you are lucky you are lucky.  Collectively they have a lucky mole in unspeakable areas of the body …

        • Chris

          I hope Jerry Jones is suffering as bad as the rest of us a cowboys fans watching the Giants luck into another Lombardi trophy and finally pulls his head out of his ass and brings us a winner.

    • MadMick

      The Cowboys have nobody to blame but themselves. They should have driven the stake through the vampire’s heart when they had the chance. Now all we’re left to look forward to is farfetched pipe dreams like assembly of a Ware/Ratliff/Brockers/Williams D-line; knock on wood.

  • MadMick

    Pats 38-27.

  • Raja

    DT – Bob Sturm recently interviewed Pat Kirwan and Pat had something to say about how other team’s view Cowboys D.  Interesting read –

    • Bluefin

      A lot gets made out of the “differences” between the WOLB and SOLB in the 3-4.

      Pro Football Focus’ stats show Demarcus Ware dropping into coverage 81 times to Anthony Spencer’s 164 last season.

      Sp Spencer averaged dropping 10 times a game while Ware averaged 5.

      Neither player dropped a lot, so I look at it as an excuse for the Anthony Apologists.

      The only players who rushed the passer more than Spencer were Ware and Jay Ratliff.

      Spencer’s job description was to get after QBs and he didn’t.

      As Sturm’s blog notes, other teams don’t believe the other guy (Spencer) is that much of a threat, so they don’t worry about him.

      Dallas needs a second edge rusher that is a threat and does worry opposing offenses whether they continue with the 3-4, switch outright to the 4-3 or play a combination of both.

      Defenses are playing more Nickel than ever, so I really don’t care what the listed front is.

      We need more pressure from the outside and the inside.

      It starts with replacing Spencer.

      • Raja

        Agreed bluefin.  I believe that fixing the front 4 or 7 will let us bring the DB rookies along slowly and give us one more year to fix the secondary.  Way too many holes to patch on D in one year..

    • Chris

      It’s football 101 that games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage. I think Ratliff needs to be moved to end where he and Hatcher would make a solid combo. If Josh Brent and Lissemore aren’t able to hold their own as a true 2 gap NT, then I’d make that a top priority along with getting a pass rusher opposite Ware and adding a CB.

  • hardwater

    Wonder how much it would improve our entire front 7 if we had someone like Cortez Kennedy now. Does Ratliff go back to 5-6 sacks? Does Spencer get 8-9-10? Wow. Just imagine.

  • connery

    If the BPA is Trent Richardson . . .
    The defense is so bare of talent that it would be difficult to imagine going anywhere else, but what if they have Richardson rated much higher than anyone else?

    • Sean N

      Get some picks for him, if that’s the case.

  • Lee1936

    Jimmy made LOTS of drafting mistakes, especially in his 2nd round picks. Two of his best 2nd rd picks were FB Daryl Johnston and SS Darren Woodson.  

  • Egtuna

    It’s still hilarious to this day that Steve Walsh garnered the bounty that he did. Steve. Walsh.

    By Comparison today, that would be like giving up a 1st, 2nd and 3rd for Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder or Jake Locker. Is there a GM in the world that does that (excluding Isaiah Thomas of course).

  • fivetwos


    I’m surprised at The National reference. I used to work there.

    You should have seen Mort in those days, you wouldn’t have believed it.

    • Chris

      I loved the National.  Before the internet,  papers like the National, the sporting news and Dallas cowboys weekly kept me going.

    • Ridgelake

      What was Mort like back then?

      • fivetwos

        Long frizzy hair with a full beard and stash, and the attire to match. Total hippie look.

        If I ever run into him again I’m so calling him out on that.

  • ym

    We’ll be saying congrats to a bunch of other players the Cowboys missed in the last few drafts.

    •  Like Clay Matthews who we could have selected had we not traded our 2009 1st round pick for Roy Williams.

      • Would they have drafted him?  Spencer was coming off his career year.  They were looking for a WR.  Hakeem Nicks is the guy they missed.  

        • cowboyny

          I believe the team even entertianed the idea of trading up for Jeremy Macklin in that draft. Boy, did the Giants hit a hr wth Nicks? Crabtree, Macklin, Heyward Bey, are not in the same league as Nicks.

          • Este

            Explains why the Giants are back in the SB. Even when they’re not hitting homeruns they at least hitting singles and doubles. What a difference it makes when your FO is run like a professional organization should run.

            Living in San Antonio and following the Spurs makes it even more maddening seeing some of the decisions made by JJ because by comparison to the Spurs FO the Cowboys have looked like a bunch of clowns.

            I’m optimist and I’m hoping that when they jettisoned a bunch of over payed under performing players last year that they are beginning to change their ways but only time will tell.

        • Bluefin

           Clay Matthews is another in a growing line of players the New England Patriots have allowed other teams to trade up and select.

          They could have drafted Matthews (’09), Dez Brant (’10) and Mark Ingram (’11) just in the past three years.

          Trading down and stockpiling picks is a great strategy and the Pats have it down to an exact science.

          But you leave talent on the board when you do it.

  • Montecito Tex

    Just glad Mrs. Doubtfire didn’t get in; then again, could be the worst class ever – Haley better than every one of those second-tier players. Fire Mickey Spagnola!