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Spagnola: How About Playing A Game Of What If


FRISCO, Texas – What if …

        What if the Dallas Cowboys had not traded two first-round picks in 2000 to Seattle for wide receiver Joey Galloway?

        What if the Cowboys had sent the Seahawks just one first-round pick? The one in 2000, knowing they needed to do something instantly to give aging quarterback Troy Aikman a legitimate wide receiver threat after a neck injury caused future Hall of Famer Michael Irvin to prematurely retire after the 1999 season. Almost anything.

        What if the Cowboys indeed had the seventh pick in the 2001 draft they rightfully had earned after going 5-11 in 2000? The pick Seattle ended up trading down with San Francisco to the ninth pick where they drafted wide receiver Koren Robinson and the Niners took Andre Carter.

Yes, 2001, the draft the Cowboys entered knowing they needed their quarterback of the future after Aikman had given the Cowboys 12 Hall of Fame years, but were so leery of his physical condition they decided not to fund his $7 million roster bonus to retain his rights with salary cap headaches on their hands.

Now, there was no way the Cowboys would have traded up to the first pick in the draft, owned by the then San Diego Chargers for the right to possibly draft Michael Vick, considered the top pick in the draft. The Atlanta Falcons paid a heavy price for that right, swapping their fifth pick in the first round to grab Vick, which allowed the Chargers to grab TCU running back and future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlison at No. 5, then defensive tackle Tay Cody in the third, along with the Falcons' 2002 second-round pick that ended up being Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer. And the Falcons also threw in veteran wide receiver/kick returner Tim Dwight.

But what if the Cowboys had that first-round pick, and what if they had traded down in the first?

Because do you remember who the second quarterback taken in that 2001draft was?

Uh, this 6-footer from Purdue University. The one who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and who single-handedly guided the Boilermakers to wins over Michigan and Ohio State in 2000 to earn a share of first place in the Big Ten with Michigan and Northwestern, and land a berth as the conference representative in the Rose Bowl. The one everyone was worried about being too short.

Yep, Drew Brees.


Had the Cowboys still had their first-round pick and traded down anywhere from what would have been their seventh pick to no further than the 31st pick in the first round, the final selection in the first that year, the Cowboys could have taken Brees.

Meaning there might never have been a Tony Romo. Their might never have been a Dak Prescott. Meaning Brees could have been in his 18th season at age 39 with the Cowboys.

Man, instead of presenting a monumental challenge for Dallas at 7:20 p.m. Thursday at AT&T Stadium, when the 10-1 New Orleans Saints, riding a 10-game winning streak, will come test the credentials of these Cowboys, who themselves are riding a three-game winning streak, now 6-5, the first time they have been above .500 this season, and technically leading the NFC East, a half-game better than the Washington Redskins (6-5) when it comes to the division record tiebreaker (3-1 to 2-1) after 11 games.

Instead of leaving Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett saying of Brees, the future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback who currently is completing 76.4 percent of his passes while averaging a hardy 8.81 yards an attempt, numbers that spit out a 127.3 QB rating, "He's just a great player. He's been a great player for a long, long time, and he's playing awfully well right now. He's played awfully well for the past 15 years. He's outstanding. There really is nothing on the field he can't do. A great leader, a great decision maker, tremendous athleticism, accurate, confident, ability to deliver the ball anywhere on the field. His command at what they do is incredible. The way the guys respond to him throughout the game, in any situation, is off the charts.

"Just a great, great player. Utmost respect for him."

And to think this guy who led the Saints to the Super Bowl XLIV championship probably would have done backflips had the Cowboys drafted the former Austin Westlake quarterback, bringing him back to his home state of Texas.

But instead, San Diego, with the first pick in the second round, simply took Brees, where he started for three years after sitting initially behind Doug Flutie. And then, after selecting Philip Rivers in 2006, the Chargers let Brees walk, who ended up in New Orleans. And the rest is history.

Unfortunately, that history for Dallas was not near as bright. The Cowboys, who could have tried to trade up from the sixth pick in the second, instead traded down twice, then back up to the 53rd pick because they received word the Raiders were trying to move up to take the quarterback they wanted and got:

Quincy Carter.

The Raiders, they ended up with quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo at the 59th pick.

And here is the worst part of that 2001 draft. The Cowboys' ultimate need did not match availability. Because in the end, this 2001 draft ended up being a two-quarterback draft: Vick and Brees, and some might say a one-quarterback draft, Brees, since Vick eventually flamed out in Atlanta.

See, after Brees was taken with the first pick in the second round, here is the order of the rest of the quarterbacks taken that year:

Carter, Tuiasosopo, Chris Weinke, Sage Rosenfels, Jesse Palmer, Mike McMahon, A.J. Feeley, Josh Booty and Josh Heupel.

Seriously, no kidding. Not a one becoming a quarterback a team could sink its teeth into.

This was as if the NFL gods were taking revenge against the Cowboys' quarterback fortunes, the franchise having maneuvered for, gambled on or lucked into the draft positions for the likes of Don Meredith, Craig Morton, Roger Staubach, Danny White and Aikman, their primary quarterbacks from 1961 through 2000, some 40 years of quarterback royalty.

Because after Aikman was released, and eventually retired in the spring of 2001, the Cowboys list of starting quarterbacks until Romo took over seven games into the 2006 season included Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf (who flamed out as San Diego's 1998 No. 2 pick behind some guy named Peyton Manning taken No. 1, and why the Chargers drafted Brees), Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Drew Bledsoe.

 And how about this for some added QB fortune: If not for Carter getting himself released during training camp of 2004, chances are Romo would have not made the 53-man roster since he was considered the fourth quarterback that summer behind Carter, Testaverde and Henson. Plus, had the Cowboys not gambled the summer of 2016 with Kellen Moore, fourth-round draft choice Dak Prescott and second-year free agent Jameill Showers as backups to Romo instead of signing a veteran backup, they might never have given Prescott a chance.

Who knows where they'd be today.

Or do we? That is, if you're willing to play this little game of what if, and prevent Garrett from going on and on about Brees, the guy the Saints gambled basically a one-year, $12 million guaranteed contract on in 2006 when trying to raise a franchise out from under Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Or what if the Miami Dolphins, who seemingly had first dibs on Brees in 2006, hadn't bailed because he was coming off serious shoulder surgery?

Or what if the Cowboys had made a free-agency play?

"It's really hard to imagine he's in his late 30s and he looks like he's 22 years old, just the way he moves around, just the way he throws the ball," Garrett said of Brees, his 127.3 QB rating nearly 10 full points higher than second-place Patrick Mahomes. "He has great quickness, and just his ability as a foot-athlete to get himself out of trouble, the way he moves in the pocket, the way he escapes, again the ability to throw the football all over the field – so many body positions. He makes a lot of little plays all over the field, he makes a ton of big plays in the game, and like I said, looks like he's in his early 20s.

"He's something else. He's a rare guy."

And to think, what if … aw heck, never mind.