IRVING, Texas – He isn't running the draft board, but former Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt had some advice for the front office ahead of next week's NFL draft -- don't reach.
Brandt joined "On Air," Star Magazine's weekly podcast on Thursday night to discuss the Cowboys' draft outlook, as well as the ever-popular topic of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. As has often been said this spring, Brandt emphasized the Cowboys can't afford to focus on one specific need to the detriment of the team.
"I think where you get in trouble is, if you're drafting 16, which they are I believe, and your 24th ranked player is a defensive lineman, and you pass over eight players to get to that defensive lineman, I think you make a mistake," Brandt said. "I just think you have to take the best player available and build your team from that."
That has been a popular topic of debate as the draft inches closer. Most would agree the Cowboys' biggest needs fall on the defensive side of the ball – namely, defensive line. But Brandt said the mistake comes in overvaluing the position simply because it's a need. If the best player available isn't a pass rusher – or isn't even a defender, in fact—he said the Cowboys can't be afraid to pull the trigger.
"If Matthews, the tackle from Texas A&M would be sitting there – it's not going to happen – but if he's sitting there when you draft, and you've already got a premier left tackle in Smith, do you pass Matthews, who was maybe your fourth or fifth-ranked player? And to me the answer is no -- you don't do that," he said. "You just have to get the best player available, and then hope that something happens that enables you to shore up that position that you're in dire need of."
Of course, the concept of taking the best player available steered the conversation toward one player who is ever-present in the minds of Cowboys' fans – Manziel. It seems unlikely the Heisman Trophy winner will last until the 16th pick, but if it were to happen, Brandt said the debate is in weighing the 2014 season against the future.
"Here's what I think, and I understand it from Jerry's point. I think if you took a quarterback, you're not going to help your football team this year. Now, two years from now, three years from now, you're probably going to help your football team," Brandt said. "So do you want to be a team that has a chance to win nine games this year because you made a good draft choice – you got a good defensive lineman, or whatever it may be – as opposed to drafting Manziel, who's going to be the future of your team?" [embedded_ad]
The Cowboys obviously already have a starting quarterback in Tony Romo. But if there's anyone qualified to speak on the merits of drafting a talented quarterback to work with an established starter, it's probably Brandt.
Under Brandt's guidance, the Cowboys drafted Craig Morton No. 5 overall in the 1965 NFL Draft, despite already having a five-year player in Don Meredith.
"We just thought that Morton had a chance to be our Manziel, and be the future of this team," he said.