If there's a guiding principle or an ideal the Cowboys are hoping to follow this offseason, it certainly seems like the New England Patriots are on the brain.
That's not writer speculation or educated guessing, either. That's coming straight from the mouth of the shot-callers. During every day of the NFL draft, following his post-draft press conferences, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones spoke briefly with the media, and three days in a row he referenced the Patriots specifically.
"They're a good role model for us," Jones said Thursday night. "They've got a quarterback in Brady, they've done a good job of having an offensive football team and they've given up a little bit on their defense – they want to score points."
It certainly sounds familiar. The Cowboys, like New England, feature an aging quarterback who they're committed to long term, the goal seeming to be to run as much as possible through Tony Romo. Jones spoke at length both Thursday and Friday night about how buying Romo time was his most critical issue.
"From the word go, every time [Romo] looks at it, he goes 'A half second. Just a half second would be the greatest difference you've ever seen,'" Jones said.
With that extra half second hopefully secured by the pickup of Travis Frederick, Jones made his next-highest priority a Patriots hallmark as well with the selection of a pass-catching dynamo at tight end. Only time will tell if Gavin Escobar can even sniff the production of Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez alongside Jason Witten.
But the intention is crystal clear.
"We welcome the opportunity to add a real tight end – with New England-type emphasis there. And can this quarterback have both of them? He sure can," Jones said.
Unsurprisingly, that emulation carried into the later rounds of the draft on Saturday afternoon. New England has long used a platoon of running backs, rather than one featured ball carrier. The Patriots have only had two 1,000-yard rushers since their 2004 Super Bowl season. One of those, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, barely topped the mark at 1,008. Stevan Ridley was their first back to have a truly prolific season behind Tom Brady when he ripped off 1,200 yards in 2012.
"They've been three wide receiver teams in the past; they've been a couple of tight end teams in recent years when they've gotten these guy," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "They do a great job playing to the strengths of their personnel."
If their selection of Joseph Randle in the fifth round Saturday pans out, look for the Cowboys to try a similar platoon system with Randle and DeMarco Murray, with Lance Dunbar used as an occasional change of pace.
"Somebody asked the starter question early. You can make a big case in this day and time that your second running back is going to take snaps and be a part of your coaching strategy," Jones said of Randle. "There aren't 11 starters on offense – there's 14, or there's 15, or there's 13. When we say 'starter,' we really could envision him coming in and having that many plays a game." [embedded_ad]
So, four of seven draft picks were spent to help create offensive firepower. With any luck, it could be enough to push Dallas' sixth-ranked offense up toward New England at No. 1. The three defensive picks in this draft? A safety, a cornerback and a linebacker-safety tweener. All three picks should hopefully help bolster the Cowboys' awful turnover margin of -13 – something the 25 Patriots used to mitigate a mediocre defense.
"You can't get it all, so you want to tailor to what you do best," Jones said.
The blueprint seems pretty obvious. Whether it works that way is yet to be determined.
"They're a team, like a lot of teams around the league, that we'll study in the offseason," Garrett said of the Patriots. "We'll watch what they do and see what the trends are. They typically do the trends better than most, so they're a good example for us."