Talent wins championships.

In 1961 The Dallas Cowboys had (arguably) the finest “first draft” of any team in NFL history. Reportedly HC Tom Landry had demanded a specific player as a condition of him taking the job and the Cowboys had received a wink-nod-bob’s-your-uncle deal where no other team would select DT Bob Lilly until the expansion Cowboys pick at 13.  The team snapped up the  Texas Christian product with their first-ever selection of the first round. Then in the 14th round the team added to it’s future Hall of Fame roster by selecting OG Billy Shaw. Name me a better first-ever draft.

That initial draft surrendered two Hall of Fame inductees, two pro-bowlers (2nd round center Houlb and 3rd round tackle Barber) and was followed up by three pro-bowlers in the next two drafts. Then in 1964 the team added Pro Bowl OG Kupp and future Hall of Fame inductees CB Mel Renfro (2nd round), WR Bob Hayes (7th round) and a QB from the Naval Academy by the name of Roger Staubach in the 10th round. The die was cast.

Sidebar: when you draft (late) and wait four years on a Hall of Fame QB you’ve just made the best value pick in the history of the NFL. Get over the Tom Brady pick. He was available in year one.

The Dallas Cowboys went on to draft Pro Bowl and/or Hall of Fame players for 15 straight years. Generally several each season. There is no doubt (in my mind) that Tom Landry was one of the greatest coaches and innovators in the history of the NFL. There is also no doubt (in my mind) that GM Tex Schramm was THE best GM in the history of the game. In a nod to historical accuracy I’m obligated to mention he was (by all accounts) a ruthless, lying SOB as well. Thank you Peter Gent.

Back in the day the Cowboys were light-years ahead of the league in scouting. They computerized their internal systems, invented an incredible collegiate scouting program and rode the talent infusion to a 20 year winning-season run that resulted in a winning record versus the entire league, two Lombardi trophies and historical recognition of their excellence and innovation.

The point here is one Rafael Vela and myself have made often. It takes consistent, quality drafting to create a NFL dynasty. Head Coach Jimmy Johnson got the ball rolling again by landing 13 elite players (Hall of Fame/Pro Bowlers) in 4 short seasons leading to a staggering 3.5 elite players a year average. The wheels fell off the talent drive shortly after Johnson left and the results, 20 years of .500 ball, were predictable.

“It takes consistent, quality drafting to create a NFL dynasty” – Van & Raf

With 2 Pro-Bowlers,  4 current and 8 probable starters from the 2016 draft on the team has the current club finally turned the “talent acquisition” corner? Perhaps. As exciting as the 2016 draft was, recent drafts, though an upgrade over recent efforts  have fallen far short of previous Cowboys dynastic efforts. Can Dallas replicate their incredible 2016 draft haul? To be frank, I am concerned the team had two big advantages in 2016 they won’t have this season. Due to their 2014 melt-down sans Tony Romo the staff both coached the Senior Bowl and was on the field working with the combine players in drills before the 2016 NFL Draft. They won’t have that hands-on advantage this time round.

Cowboys staff were in the bleachers with the rest of the play-off teams this senior bowl. Combine access will be similar. Pete Rozelle’s vision of parity begins with the draft. The more successful the team, the higher the next-season-mountain. This is the next challenge for the Cowboys front office. How to build on the knowledge from that seasons experience when they went against the pundits “grain” and took the “best available” player with their fist pick (RB Ezekiel Elliott) versus drafting for need (edge rusher).

“I am concerned the team had two huge advantages in 2016 they won’t have this season.” – Steven Van Over

In a modern NFL Catch-22 if the Cowboys draft for “need”this year they will fail as other teams get the cream of the crop and Dallas will be trying to get starter minutes from JAG’s (just another guy). However if the club doesn’t get the players they need they won’t succeed as other teams exploit their weaknesses. Former GM Tex Schramm would’ve figured it out. The Patriots, Steelers and Seahawks have it figured out. Do Will McClay, Stephen Jones & Jason Garrett have the answers for 2017?

I hope so. Rudy makes for a great movie. Talent wins championships.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Shout out to Bridget – Thanks for the Chili

Steven Van Over

Steven Van Over

Analyst, Editor, Photographer, Writer at SportsTalkLine
Editor, Writer, Podcaster & Photographer for @SportsTalkLine Network. I watch sports, I talk about sports then I write about sports. Catch me on Twitter @StevenVanOver
Steven Van Over
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  • Lee1936

    If you share my frustration with Dallas’ record of futility this century, and wonder why, then look no further than their SECOND ROUND DRAFT CURSE.
    2000: CB Dwayne Goodrich–couldn’t cover an ant with a size 12 shoe. The last I read about him was that he was facing a charge of murder by BMW.
    2001: QB Quincy Carter and S Tony Dixon. Neither was a keeper.
    2002: Two picks in round 2: a reliable OG/OC Andre Gurode, and an airhead WR, Antonio Bryant, best remembered for throwing his sweaty jersey at Parcells. Soon departed Dallas.
    2003: OC Al Johnson, whose NFL career was quickly destroyed by a micro-fractured knee.
    2004: Two picks in round 2: RB Julius Jones, who had a brief run of success, and OT Jacob Rogers, who never came close to becoming a starter. In Dallas, Parcells was no good drafting OLs.
    2005: LB Devin Burnett injured both knees his rookie year, and went on IR. Started only 4 games in Dallas, playing mostly in nickle and dime time, and on special teams. Helpful and useful, but not a starter. No second contract in Dallas.
    2006: TE Anthony Fasano, not traded away, but given away as a favor. Had a decent career elsewhere.
    2007: No pick in round 2. Who needs picks in round 2?
    2008: TE Martellus Bennett, a backup in Dallas, not resigned. Had a decent career elsewhere.
    2009: No pick in round 2. Who needs picks in round 2? Drafted 12 prospects, kept NONE.
    2010: LB Sean Lee. Fine player. Drafted injured, and has remained injury-prone.
    2011: LB Bruce Carter. Drafted injured. Not resigned after rookie contract.
    2012: No pick in round 2–lost in trade-up to take “the next Deion Sanders,” Mo Claiborne. Who needs picks in round 2?
    2013: TE Gavin Escobarf. Will Dallas sign him to a second contract? Would you?
    2014: DE Demarcus Lawrence. He cost a 3rd round pick to move up in the 2nd. Has shown an occasional flash, but injured his back and underwent surgery. Future seems uncertain.
    2015: DE Randy Gregory. Can’t get on the field–repeated drug suspensions.
    2016: LB Jaylon Smith, great college player, drafted injured. His injury is unusual, the outcome unpredictable. Would anyone other than JerryJ gamble his pick # 34 on a prospect whose chance of full recovery is “50/50”? I promise you, my brethren, that if there had been ANY sign of recovery, JerryJ would have announced it, with fanfare, and the jubilation in Texas would have registered on the Richter Scale.
    But over a year after his injury, that nerve in Smith’s knee is still dead.
    What other team has comparable difficulty finding starters in the second round? In Dallas, it’s a CURSE, and the main reason for continued mediocrity.
    Yet, many of my fellow fans blame Tony Romo–the dropped snap in Seattle, the weekend in Cabo, and the long stretch of playoff futility. Charlie Waters dropped a snap, but was revered by a more knowledgeable fandom. As I recall, Jason Witten relaxed at Cabo, and has shared the same playoff futility, but is revered by the Romo haters.
    To the haters, I say, look instead to the GM. His failures are legion, but most of his most crucial are listed above.

    • Steven Chavez

      Not being able to draft in the second round isn’t a curse. It’s a clear indication of bad drafting. There are too many good players available at that point for anyone not to be able and get lucky and pick a few good ones over a 16 year period, nevermind a professional GM. Anyone capable of reading and blurting out a name would have to get a few right at that point. I do understand what you’re saying, so much has to go wrong for them to keep failing in the second round over and over. No, the curse is not the second round, it is the man selecting in the second round. It is the man who somehow just got inducted into the HOF.

      • Lee1936

        I say the our second round futility in drafting has been an ongoing curse.
        You say No, the GM’s drafting is the curse.
        What’s the difference?

        • Steven Van Over

          If I may chime in?

          One is a curse of the round regardless of era .. the other is a curse of the GM in his capacity as such, for that round. Subtle, yet distinct.

          I (for one) am very interested in the outcome.

    • hardwater

      Agreed. Second round has been a desert.

  • daledoe

    Ah the days of Tom Landry. He was a true teacher of the game. The teams weren’t limited on padded practices and there was time to develop players. He put players in different positions and made All Pros of them. It was a time when pro football wasn’t about the pay check.
    Rayfield Wright came as a tight end and became one of the all time great tackles. Charlie Waters a cornerback who was too slow but a great safety. The list goes on. Now it’s usually do it now or you’re gone.

    • Jon B

      Landry loved Athletes. See Bullet Bob Hayes and Landry’s forward pass approach vs Lombardi’s cloud of dust. Landry the defensive genius was just as crafty on the offensive side. Randy White was LB to DT. Lots of developmental projects. Didn’t they spend a late late late rounder on Carl Lewis in hopes he might chose football after his Olympic gold in 1984 like the Bullet.

      He also rarely played rookies. Many players on roster from late late rounds that don’t exist anymore.

      The front office needs the rookie to play to take the sting out of the salary cap. I can’t think of too many players other than James Harrison who stuck around on mulitple practice squads to become an ALL PRO later on and not as a young man. Perhaps David Irving is our own practice squad to all pro……..I for one sure hope so. And the man that changed all that…………..well we have our very own Jerry Jones to thank for that. Pro Football was a money losing hobby for millionaires until Jerry helped transform it into the billionaire making biz it is today.

  • Taylor

    We have enough talent that the draft philosophy can shift a little from BPA to BPA that fits our needs/systems. Finding what appears the once and future qb takes a lot of pressure off the process. I would like to see us pass on high risk players, ala Gregory, and I’m not crazy about spending premium picks on players who need a redshirt year, as in Jaylon Smith. Lee has turned out to be a plus pick, Carter, not so much.

  • hardwater

    We have seen the Cowboys draft improve under the Will McClayStephen Jones/JG triumvirate so there is reason to believe in continued success. However, I believe they are going to have to deviate at least a little from their “draft the best player available” mantra as they are in great need of pass rushers and CB’s. And all signs point to the fact that the Cowboys are only a pass rusher (or 2) and a shut down CB (or 2) and/or playmaking FS away from a Super Bowl. I’m sure we’d all love to see what just one of each would do for next season’s defense.

    And for God’s sake no TE’s period. Until Witten retires and is gone there’s just no point.