IRVING, Texas – One player can play a significant role in determining the success of this year's draft for the Cowboys, and he's not even one of the draft picks.
Dallas passed on a falling Sharrif Floyd, considered by many to be the top defensive line prospect in the draft. The coaching staff, particularly defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, were confident in the group they had, including the move of Jason Hatcher from a 3-4 defensive end inside to a one-technique defensive tackle.
The Hatcher move came as a surprise to many outside the organization, but if he can succeed and excel in his new role, it could justify passing on the talented Florida lineman, whose career will otherwise be forever connected to the Cowboys by a flummoxed fan base.
The coaches' confidence in the defensive line group on that draft day continues to be evident now, as the Cowboys passed on free agent defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who signed Tuesday with the Lions. Idonije spent the last four seasons with Marinelli in Chicago, amassing 23 sacks during that time.
Marinelli knows Idonije better than any coach in the NFL. Marinelli and Kiffin also know what to look for to put together a strong defensive line, and clearly believe they have all they need as starters already in Dallas.
"There's a lot of competition, no doubt about it there is, and there's no doubt that's probably where our depth is right now, is with our defensive line," Kiffin said.
If Hatcher can hold up in the middle and if Jay Ratliff can stay healthy next to him, the front office could be justified in passing on Floyd, who likely will start his career as a backup for the Vikings. They also obviously need Travis Frederick to earn a starting job for years to come.
From the early looks thus far, Hatcher and Ratliff will man the inside, backed up by Sean Lissemore and Ben Bass, while Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware will occupy the outside, backed up by Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber. All the recent staff decisions further indicate how content Marinelli and Kiffin are with those moves.
Whether or not they're right could mean the [embedded_ad] difference in wins and losses this season. All the while, Floyd's career will be closely monitored.
If they succeed in their assessment, no one will look back with disdain at the trade to get a late first- and third-round pick to secure Frederick and Terrance Williams.
If they're wrong, it'll be impossible to squash the questioning on the decision to pass on Floyd and other coveted defensive line free agents this offseason.