How the Jones’ Impulse Shorts the Cowboys Future

One impulsive fellow

We often talk here on Cowboys Nation about prioritizing picks and how the Cowboys rebuilding project always seems to be two years or more in duration.

This week, I did a joint story with Fox Sports Southwest’s Bob Sturm and Newsradio 1310 The Ticket’s David Newbury on the Cowboys’ off-season plans.  My piece, which I’m re-printing here, gets at the reasons why the Cowboys never seem to make up ground.

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In one of his cockier moments during the Super Bowl ’90s, Jerry Jones bragged that his wealth was obvious.  If everybody in the world could start with the same amount of money, he explained, the same people who currently had the biggest portfolios would do so again in short time.  Winners were winners.
Let’s take Jerry’s metaphor and apply it to the world of NFL drafting, where Jones has seen something less than success in his nineteen years as the sole totem atop the Cowboys pole.  (This April draft will be the 20th post Jimmy Johnson!)  In the cap-era NFL, draft picks are the major currency and the league plays a version of Jerry’s wealth distribution game, giving each team seven draft picks each spring.  It’s then up to the general managers to invest them wisely.  Following up on David Newbury’s point that Dallas has burned an excessive amount of high picks in recent years, I decided to chart how all the NFL teams have used their priority picks in rounds 1-3.  These are the building block picks, which produce the most impact players an early starters.  
I created a frame starting in 2007, the first year after Bill Parcells abdicated the Cowboys throne.  In the six subsequent seasons, each NFL team has started with 18 picks, three in each round.  Those teams which lost priority free agents and did not replace them may have realized an extra 3rd round pick or even two in that span.  Here’s the list of picks the teams have amassed during Jerry 2.0.  (I’ve chopped the list a bit for space):
1.   New England  25 picks
2T.  Detroit  23 picks
2T.  Kansas City  23 picks
4T.  Cincinnati  22 picks
4T.  Denver   22 picks
6.   Miami  21 picks
7T. Baltimore 20 picks
7T. Atlanta  20 picks
7.  St. Louis 20 picks
10T.  Green Bay  19 picks
10 T.  NY GIants 19 picks
10 T.  Philadelphia  19 picks
10.T.  Pittsburgh  19 picks…
28T.  Dallas 14 picks
28T  New Orleans 14 picks
28T. Minnesota 14 pick
31T.  NY Jets 13 picks
31T.  Washington 13 picks
Any surprise that Dallas ranks in the bottom quarter of early dratt pick attempts since Jerry reclaimed the helm?  He groused earlier this year that it’s unacceptable for the Cowboys to continually finish one win short of the playoffs, as the  team again did in 2012, but look at the pressure he’s putting on his scouts and himself by dealing away 1st and 2nd rounders.  He’s had eleven fewer early round picks than Bill Belichick.  He’s had six fewer than Ozzie Newsome.  In the conference, he’s had six fewer picks than the Flacons’ Thomas Dimitroff, and five less than the Giants Jerry Reece and the Packers’ Ted Thompson.
And every one of those guys knows how to find good football players.
If Jerry had given the organization four or five extra picks up top, might he have a couple more key starters and the depth necessary to find that extra win?   That’s why keeping Anthony Spencer is the team’s top early off-season priority.  I think he can excel in the 4-3 and his team has made free agency an inordinately large part of its developmental program.

You can’t keep pace with guys like Newsome, Reece and Belichick when they get one to two more early round picks than your team every year unless you hit it big in free agency.

It’s a vicious cycle towards mediocrity.   The Jones give themselves fewer spins at the draft wheel, chasing bling players like Dez Bryant and Morris Claiborne.  They then find themselves short on depth and overall talent, which sends them to free agency.  They then give out desperation deals to guys like an over-the-hill Terrell Owens or a suspect starter like Mackenzy Bernadeau.  Until the Cowboys stop burning high picks, they give themselves no choice.

Jerry may manage his personal wealth like Warren Buffet, but he’s managed his draft pick portfolio like Dez Bryant manages his money.  That’s left Dallas fans all the poorer.  

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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  • Dexception32

    As a New Englander I can tell you that the lauded Bill Belichick often gets plenty of crap for his drafting nonsense. The fan base is usually angry at his constant trade downs, and if you truly look at his drafting its not terribly impressive. Before Gronk and Hernandez they had failed several years to get a competent tight end despite drafting one high, they still haven’t hit on the running back, something they’ve spent picks on consistently since Maroney, and just about every receiver they drafted has failed miserably. Their corners have been equally awful. And the defensive gems they’ve banked on have usually been nothing but slightly above average. They’re major impact players have been free agents: Moss, Welker…, about the only place they seem to do a good job is the offensive line which admittedly we could use…and they seem to part ways with high price guys early in exchange for something like Seymour, Malloy and Samuel, though with the exception of Malloy, this usually hurts them a bit short term. Obviously there record is impressive but as of late that’s also been a product of beating up on depleted Miami, Buffalo, Jets teams which is why they haven’t been as impressive come playoff time. Being last is deplorable yes, but being first isn’t some shining achievement either on this list.

  • Lee1936

    Raf, this is an outstanding post.

  • DKA

    An offseason of Jerry Jones continually repeating that he wants to
    make people uncomfortable is nauseating. As a manager or leader, it is
    up to him to find the best possible people for their jobs and to give
    them the support they need to succeed. If you feel like you have to
    make it “uncomfortable” for them to get better results, then you (Jerry)
    are the problem. It means you either haven’t hired the right people or
    you don’t give them the proper support to succeed. The only party that
    should have to feel “uncomfortable” is Jerry, because he is the
    consistent thread across all of the issues this team has had in their
    now 15 year stretch of mediocrity or worse.

    I really feel like we
    can never now how good Jason Garrett or anyone else could be because
    Jerry plays all of the owner/GM/and player’s best friend or heavy roles
    and that can’t work. It undermines everything, including and in
    particular the coaching staff.

    This team has no consistent
    template or methodology for drafting and developing players because it
    has no consistency in the way it wants to play. This means that every 3
    to 5 years, we change schemes which tends to lay to waste any chance
    for depth that could have been built, as many players in house no longer
    fit the new scheme’s templates. Add that to the consistently reduced #
    of high draft picks Raf laid out, and it’s really no wonder that we are
    always lacking in depth, overpaying for Free Agents and hoping that one
    or two shiny new skill position players will make up for our lack of
    depth down the middle (OL, DL, Safeties, etc.). I wanted to scream when
    I saw Jerry’s quotes yesterday that he can choose to go weaker in the
    OLine because Romo is so good at avoiding the rush and making plays
    under pressure

    Jerry is a great marketer and I do believe he
    really wants to win, but he is the root of all our on field problems and
    it is hard to imagine how we can ever get to be a consistent winner as
    long as he is in charge.

  • Yuma Cactus

    IMO the ’08 and ’09 drafts were abysmal. ’10, ’11 and ’12 seem better. Those 2 have crippled the ‘Boys and will need another draft or 2 to make up for the lack players getting a 2nd contract and thus being core “young” vets.

  • jrcowboy49

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

    Albert Einstein

  • ym

    Trading picks to move up can help. It helped the Falcons.

    • Jeremy Hadowanetz

      This is true to a certain extent after years of doing it you get an old over paid roster with to many holes to patch all the leaks through the draft and no money to be active in free agency

    • Yes, it can help, and it has helped the Cowboys. But you can’t do this every year. Dallas does this what, two out of every three years? That will set you behind your competition, because a guy like Jerry Reece doesn’t squander many picks. Over a short number of years, he’s suddenly got a deeper roster.

  • truecowboyfan

    Great job, Raf, of adding some perspective to the current Cowboys woes. I think the lack of top picks is definitely an issue. An even greater issue might be how Jerry uses the top picks that they possess. Since 2007, 1st round picks were used on OLB, RB (worse yet, a complementary RB), CB, WR (Roy Williams), WR (Dez), OT, and CB…Jerry just can’t resist the flashy, high profile positions and it has really hurt this team. Its a fatal flaw.

  • Cowboys4Life

    For this exact reason it might be a good idea to trade down in the first this year in hopes of picking up an extra third round pick. It’s possible to do that and still get a good player in Round 1 at one of our positions of need. (Especially guard or right tackle)

    • Good idea, but this is a deep draft and everybody knows it. All the teams want to stockpile picks. They’re all looking for somebody to move up and flip them an extra 2nd or 3rd.

      Be very afraid. I’m sure every GM looking to move down has Jerry on speed dial. It’s not like he’s never taken the bait before.

      • Jimmer

        BPA. Jerry passed on L. McCoy to acquire picks.

        • He passed on McCoy b/c he had spent a 1st on Felix Jones the year before and that that formidable “3-headed monster” (rolls eyes) at RB.

  • hardwater

    Rafael, your analysis of the lack of draft picks really highlights the problem. More than ever I believe the Cowboys need to go all in on offense this year to have a shot at the playoffs. In other words, get strong on one side of the ball first.

    • truecowboyfan

      Cooper (6′ 2″ 311) and Warford (6’3″ 332) looking good so far in Indy. Both had 33″ arms or longer, which tops DeCastro. Warford put up 28 reps in the bench press, which is respectable, and Cooper jacked up 35! That will certainly help the stock of player known more for his movement skills than his power.

  • draftmane

    Speaking of T.O.,we need a WR late also, We just have Dez & alot of UDFA who no one trust,if Dez gets hurt seasons over DaRick Rodgers or Marquess Wilson please!

  • Jeremy Hadowanetz

    Although I understand the point of the article look at the top ten of this list at least five are teams that are no better off than the boys. I understand buying more lotto tickets gives you a better chance but its a marginal chance at best. I would like him to give the scouts a little more ammo and stop making huge trades like the Galloway and Williams deals, but the dez and Morris picks were good moves I believe. If there is a player out there that you believe is cant miss prospect you have to make a deal if you can just dont miss on a two pick for one player

    • jazzbo251

      I think that this is an important point.

      Of the top 6 teams, only 1 is a powerhouse, (NE); 2 of them (Den and Cin) are average with a touch of playoff success; and 3 are poor teams, (Miami, KC, Det). Interesting.

      Tied for 7th place you have 2 strong teams and one very weak one.

      The results are a little better with the teams tied for 10th place, where you have 3 very good teams and one weak one.

  • chuckcowboy

    Great post. The facts are startling. So while I definitely agree, I still don’t feel TO was a bad investment or that he was over-the-hill. But, indeed, Jerry has failed in just about all of the other FA choices like you indicated (lol..just sub Roy Wms and Galloway for TO).

    • Context. I’m not saying signing him in ’06 was wrong. But the Cowboys had an out in ’09; TO was due an 8 M signing bonus that spring, just months after he engineered that “Witten and Romo draw up plays together” fiasco in December, when the team melted down vs. Baltimore and Philly and missed the playoffs. He was playing locker room lawyer and everybody knew it. What’s more, he was starting to show signs of serious decline. But Austin had not emerged yet.

      T.O. was over-the-hill *at that point* and the team still picked up his option, and then cut him 12 months later, putting a big chunk of dead money in their cap gullet.

      This is the bad deal I’m referring to. It has a lot of company.

      • chuckcowboy

        thanks for the clarification…and I gotcha now.

      • tdships

        Exactly right, it was the 2nd, unnecessary contract that screwed the pooch with Owens – a completely unforced error. Regarding the basic premise of the above post -DET, KC and CIN occupying top spots doesn’t lend a lot of credence to the case at first glance. Unless part of the contention is – if you are bad at drafting, it may not really matter.

        Still contend over the last several years, NE has essentially admitted drafting in general is a crapshoot and accumulated Picks in Rds 1-3 to basically up their absolute # of successes while maintaining a relatively average success rate. More top picks = more success.

  • este

    I don’t believe the casual fan understands how much winning and losing is determined by what the FO does or doesn’t do. It’s so easy to curse Romo for every failure but this post spells out the real problem in black and white.

    • Lee1936

      Exactly. Precisely.
      But Cowboys Stadium is filled with fans who can not comprehend the problem–which is not a player, but an arrogant, stubborn, know-it-all owner who treats the draft as a publicity stunt to sell tickets to dumbos.

  • I agree

    More to blame than Jerry who does keep it excited even while losing still popular & Im still as big of a Cowboy fan as I was when he 1st got here.I think I was a little spoiled by the early 90″s but just like this world you take the good with the bad.(RIP Jerry Buss)

  • Montecito Tex

    Two straight seasons of 8-8 are worst than three seasons of 5-11. The worst place to be in professional sports is .500. Extending Romo will only continue this twenty-year trend of mediocrity.

    • Michael

      Tex is right.

      This roster needs to be blown up. The bad contracts have to be cleared out and the QB who shrinks under pressure has to be traded away. It is also time to trade Ware and turn to youth on the DL by getting rid of Ratliff, Spears, Coleman, etc..

      Jones gambled a few years back on an uncapped year where he could clean up his contract mess and leverage his wealth like he did in the 90s. He lost. Now is the time to clean up that mess and let cooler heads take the reigns.

      • Taylor

        Dumping all the bad contracts is an attractive idea, but the dead money would make us look like an expansion team for years. Then we would have to depend on Jerry to make the right decisions to rebuild. I’m not optimistic about this plan.

      • Lee1936

        I’d take the opposite approach. Instead of getting rid of the best players, I’d rather get rid of the worst.

    • chuckcowboy

      Even with the inevitable (and cap necessary) extension, Jerry and Stephen are only being politically correct with their public support for Romo. A few times recently–albeit more subtly–they’ve reportedly mentioned ‘wanting him to play more within himself…’ and the like. They saw it plainly this time. The whole freakin world saw it: Romo blew another chance to elevate himself to the elite with that fateful bone-headed decision and pick.

      Now this extension will certainly provide not only performance incentives but also lack-of-performance clauses that will alow them to dump him in a couple of years w/o cap-Hades consequences. Yes, he’ll get his money, but it will really be different this time.

      Either way, Johnny Football arrives in 2014!

      • Mekkio wekkio

        what make this situation is bad was the fact it wasn’t a pressure intense playoff game. It was the game needed to get into the playoffs.