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Spagnola: Jabbing Way Out Of First-Round Corner


IRVING, Texas – If you just go back to the last couple of paragraphs of my May 2 column, remember I took liberties with the Rolling Stone's 1969 release of "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

         Now, not real sure, and just guessing here, but Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weren't exactly referring to these player drafts in the National Football League when they wrote the lyrics to that song.

         But if you think about it, let those words to the singsong refrain ring in your head. They fittingly describe what took place for the Dallas Cowboys in the first round Thursday night of this year's NFL Draft:

         Oh, if you can't always get what you want. … Oh, if you can't always get what you want. … But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

*         *Right? Isn't that exactly what took place when the Cowboys went on the clock at the exact midway point of the 32-pick first round?

         No, the Cowboys didn't go into this draft thinking to themselves, by golly, we just need to use the third first-round pick in four years on an offensive lineman; that they were dead set on rewriting the franchise draft history. You remember, right? These Dallas Cowboys over their first 50 drafts only used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman three times. That's it, three: C John Niland, 1966; C Robert Shaw 1979; and OT Howard Richards, 1981.

         And yet they still somehow won those five Super Bowls, including the three in four years during the 1990s, and played in a total of seven Super Bowls and two NFL title games, yet there was this perception out there this century that the Cowboys just don't invest in offensive linemen like they used to.

*         *Ha, by selecting Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin with that 16th pick on Thursday they now have selected as many offensive linemen in the first round the past four years as they had in the previous 50.

         Maybe that's why in the days leading up to Thursday's first round, when some were suggesting the Cowboys should take an offensive lineman in the first, I cried B-O-R-I-N-G. Come on, at some point you've got to turn the page. Can't keep spending your resources on the same position. Get you that defensive lineman, inside or out. Get you a wide receiver, versatile enough to play all three positions and with enough speed to return kicks.

         Those were my exact thoughts … in a perfect world. Just get what you want or trade the heck out of that spot.

         But nothing is perfect selecting in the 16th spot. You are at the mercy of the 15 teams picking before you. Adaptability becomes your biggest strength. You can hope, but chances are you're going to get your heart broken. The Cowboys had their hearts broken.

         And the biggest problem, those 15 teams ahead of them, and really a half-dozen of the teams behind them, just didn't cooperate. Come on, only one quarterback went off the board in the first 21 picks, Blake Bortles, No. 3 to Jacksonville. Why no Johnny Football? No Teddy Bridgewater? No Derek Carr? I mean all those draftnicks, the professed experts, told you all these QBs would be swept away, right?


         Oh, speaking of Ha, no safeties were taken either, with so many projections of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor being top-15 commodities.

         That's five players. Knock those five off the board in the top-15 picks and the Cowboys would have been sitting pretty. Might have had their pick of the likes of projected defensive end Anthony Barr, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, linebacker Ryan Shazier or my guy, Odell Beckham Jr.

         But nooooo. Got no cooperation. None of those highly-projected guys were taken. And if faces can tell a story, the life seemingly slowly was seeping right out of those of the Cowboys in that War Room. First Barr goes to Minnesota at No. 9, and OK, that he would be there was somewhat of a pipe dream anyway. Then Beckham to the Giants, of all people, at 12. Then Donald, somewhat surprisingly, to St. Louis at 13 with the second of the Rams' two first-round selections. Then, somewhat predictably, Shazier to Pittsburgh at 15.

         All sending the Cowboys reaching for the phones, the equivalent of a draft day 911. Time to bail. Trade down. Get outta there, get that valuable extra pick as they did last year when moving out of 18 to 31, then taking C Travis Frederick, along with WR Terrance Williams with the extra third they picked up. Good stuff.

         Only one problem, same problem they discovered when testing the waters to move up some in the first: As one person said early Thursday when describing this dilemma of wanting to trade: Everyone wants to go to the prom, but the problem is finding a date. Or in this in case, finding a willing trading partner offering satisfactory compensation.

         Oh, they tried, taking their 10-minute allotment down to the final minute. It was like screaming in their heads, come on you guys; don't you know Johnny Manziel is still on the board? So are Bridgewater and Carr and those safeties. Surely *someone is *desperate enough to trade up for one of those five guys?

           Nada. Not a soul, at least not for what the Cowboys were asking. Come on ya'll, Johnny Friggin' Football, who surprisingly to the Cowboys, too, still was on the board.

Photos of the Cowboys' 2014 first round draft pick, OT Zack Martin (Round 1, Pick 16).

         "But what I was even more surprised about," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would say after the first, "is the fact that he was there and didn't bring on a bonanza of offers that would have given us maybe more options. I was also surprised, frankly, that we had the option to take (Zack) Martin.

         "This would have been a lot tougher decision had a player of that caliber, a player that we had rated where we had him rated, it would have been a lot tougher decision in looking at those trade offers what we might had."

         So the Cowboys didn't fight it. They reacted prudently and reasonably. First, not laying hands on Manziel, which would have created an untenable situation in the quarterback room and a circus not even the Cowboys could fit under their personal Big Top. Then, not sacrificing the value of No. 16 by getting fleeced in a trade-down. Then, and most importantly, not over-drafting, reaching for a defensive end or defensive tackle because of need, again that lesson they learned the hard way back in 1994 when drafting Shante Carver purely on defensive end need.

         Then, to an applauding chorus from the scouting department, the Cowboys simply did the right thing, given the corner they were boxed into, selecting the versatile Martin, a fine offensive tackle at Notre Dame, a very high-character guy who started every game there in his final four years in South Bend (52 of 52) and with enough position flex to first play guard but likely at some point transitioning to right tackle.

         By jabbing their way out, the Cowboys immediately strengthen the interior of the offensive line, and as we would find out later, considered the second-biggest Cowboys need, in their minds, next to strengthening the defensive line. [embedded_ad]

         Boring? Well, drafting offensive linemen, especially a center and guard in back-to-back firsts, along with drafting tackle Tyron Smith in 2011, doesn't create a lot of juice. Or maybe the Cowboys should be accused of boarding, as in following their board, something everyone was crying for last year when trading away from Shariff Floyd. So if there are those unimpressed with the pick of Martin, be careful what you might have been asking for.

         Look, the worst thing that could happen, if Martin is who these scouts say he is, the Cowboys have bought even more protection for Tony Romo and, assuming the guy can run block, might help them run for more than the 1,504 yards of last year, and if you can believe this after rushing for the fewest yards in franchise history during a 16-game season in 2012, the second-lowest team rushing total during a non-strike, 16-game season (1,265). Yeah, that bad.

         So see, maybe the Stones were really on to something with these NFL drafts, because, heck, who knows, if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

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