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Spagnola: These Risky Cowboys Just Hoping For Some Rewards

Posted Apr 28, 2013


IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have been accused of being a lot of things over the past three days of the NFL Draft, most unfit to print. Brutal.Stubborn hasn’t been one of them.

But that’s what they were, mulish, and to a fault to many.

Oh this draft could have been so easy if they had just been conformists in the first round, just sit at No. 18 to select Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. Simply play the cards dealt them, even if cards in this game of Draft 21 loaded with a bunch of 6’s and 7’s by time their turn came around.

Why these Cowboys were dead set on improving their offensive line in this draft, trying to get a walk-in starter up front to help prevent quarterback Tony Romo from another career-high 36-sack season; to minimize Sunday’s at the Improv, starring the under-siege Tony Romo; and to possibly become bullish enough to run for more than the eight touchdowns of last year.

As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of his offense of the past couple of years, “I like the way we threw the ball but I don’t like the amount,” which he understood was born out of necessity.

But of all things, and I’m sure someone has researched this by now, likely for the first time since “my daddy told me this is a football,” three offensive tackles were selected with the first four picks in this 2013 NFL Draft. Probably for the first time since Pop Warner, six offensive linemen – six now! – were swept off the board in the first 11 picks, all six consensus first-round picks.

As Jones told me Friday afternoon when asked what his dream scenario was heading into the first round, “That dream ended with the first four picks.”

Indeed, the three best offensive tackles, gone. The two best guards within the next six picks, gone. Then the borderline tackle since he was only a right one, history after 11. And the bailout choices, Missouri three-techique tackle Sheldon Richardson and Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, gone.

 As Jones would later kid, invoking a Ron Washington-ism, “That how draft goes.”

So conventional wisdom suggested the Cowboys just take the defensive tackle, even if his skills didn’t fit their defensive tackle needs – they wanted a three-technique tackle not a one-technique, in other words more of a playmaker than a nose tackle – and then move on to Rd. 2.

Conventional? Ha. You can call Jerry Jones a lot of things – and again, many have over the past few days – but conventional would not be one of them, and there are a lot of folks out there who have trouble doing unconventional.

So Jones, and consequently the Cowboys, fought this draft, spit in the face of fate to dial up the risk factor. They traded out of the pick, all the way down to No. 31 with San Francisco, switching spots in the first and picking up a third-round choice, 12th in that round, for their troubles. By golly, come hell or high water they – he – was going to get that offensive lineman, and apparently the next best offensive lineman in their opinion was not Justin Pugh of Syracuse or guard Kyle Long of Oregon, and thanks goodness for that.

That offensive lineman up their sleeve was Wisconsin center/guard Travis Frederick, Jones said.

Who?

And therein rests maybe the biggest problem: Image. Everyone recognized the name of Floyd, who eventually went five picks later to Minnesota – meaning passed over by 21 over teams. Why people knew the names of Fisher, Joeckel, Johnson, Warmack, Cooper and Fluker.

But Frederick, who? A center, what? A second-round grade, you kidding me?

And with the 3st pick the Dallas Cowboys select Travis Frederick, center/guard, from the University of Wisconsin.

Booooo. At the draft party out on the east plaza of Cowboys Stadium, a whole bunch of the announced 4,400 there stomped out in disgust. The mutterings were audible. The tweets were vicious. But all that was predictable.

Never mind the Cowboys selected the best center in the draft. Criticism stormed down. After all they drafted a nobody instead of a draft-hold name, if you will. They traded down too far, ignoring too many good players. They didn’t get enough in return for the trade, that determined by the very old trade-chart values established by themselves more than 20 years ago. They could have gotten this guy with their second-round selection, but only maybe since their next turn would have been 31 picks away.

But as Jones said at the completion of the draft on Saturday, he didn’t have the (uh, nerve) to wait on the guy who could possibly anchor this offensive line for years to come, or at least man one of the problematic guard positions of last year if a healthy Phil Costa once again proves worthy enough to command the center position.

Now there does not seem to be any dispute on the projected talent of Frederick. There is a consensus there: A potential block of granite up front.

There is also this: Terrance Williams, the Baylor wide receiver who led the nation by averaging 18.9 yards a catch, selected with San Francisco’s third-round pick, a two-fer when judging the goodness of this trade.

By claiming the extra pick the Cowboys were able to use the second on tight end Gavin Escobar, maybe to finally establish the two-tight end offense head coach Jason Garrett has so desired but never had been able to achieve with Martellus Bennett as the second one. That second-rounder would have then become Frederick . . . if he still was there.

And by claiming the extra pick, not only were the Cowboys able to grab a speed receiver bigger than 5-10, they also in the third round found their safety, J.J. Wilcox of Georgia Southern. Without that extra pick, it would have been either or in the third, the wide receiver or the safety whose enthusiasm already has captured most everyone’s hearts.

The irony of this move is multilayered. Most everyone out there wanted the Cowboys to spend the first-round pick on their second offensive lineman in three years. They did, and are getting buried for it.

Most everyone out there is screaming the Cowboys took a second-round talent in the first round. Yet the general consensus of the “experts” out there had been this was a 15-player first-round, and the rest were second-round talents. Seems as though that was close, the Cowboys I believe having no more than 20 players with first-round grades, and probably less.

That means the majority of the guys selected after No. 18 were considered second-rounders, as was LSU safety Eric Reid, who San Francisco traded up for to select. And please, what the heck is the difference between No. 31, a first, or say No. 34, a second. Heck, 18 years ago, No. 31 was a second.

Now look, prior to this draft I wanted the Cowboys to select a defensive tackle. Thought they needed one to pair up front with Jay Ratliff, and I still think they do. They thought so, too, but didn’t want to use a first-round pick – and commensurate salary – on a glorified nose tackle, only on a three-technique guy, so that eliminated the guy I thought they would take there, Sylvester Williams, a nose basically who went at 28 to Denver.

As an aside, when interviewing new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on Saturday and asking how badly he wanted a one-technique defensive tackle in these final rounds, he said no, that he needed linebackers for his 4-3 defense, that he was more than fine with his front four personnel. In fact, thought they were well stocked.

  So we’ll soon see. Did the Cowboys get too greedy for their own good or maybe too cute, ending up with less in an effort to get more? Or were the Cowboys commendably stubborn, giving the Heisman to draft’s fate and marching to their own beat.

We’ll likely know in two years.

But just remember, when judging right or wrong – brilliance or bust – don’t forget to evaluate the package of Frederick-Williams against settling for Floyd or Reid or Pugh or Williams or safety Matt Elam, the only guys the Cowboys might have considered over those final 15 first-round picks in lieu of the center.

That’s the considerable risk, we – they – know that.

But . . . an equally biggie-sized reward for their draft-day tenacity hangs in the balance, one they realize, and we should, too.

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