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Draft Central | 2023

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Spagnola: Jerry Doubles Down In The War Room


FRISCO, Texas – This was supposed to be about the Cowboys' 2023 NFL Draft, summarizing what they did and what they didn't do over those critical three days to roster building.

Was going to belabor how the Cowboys utilized all of their draft picks and point how hard it is to excel in a draft when your first pick is 26th in the first round, meaning in this one sixth to the last, and seventh to the last in the second round, the penalty incurred in this socialized NFL system where the meek shall inherit, the one downer for going 12-5 in the regular season and winning one playoff game.

Wanted to go on how the Cowboys capitalized on what would have been all 10 picks in this draft, reminding one and all how they used a fifth-round selection to trade for starting wide receiver Brandin Cooks, how they used a compensatory fifth-round choice to trade for starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore and how they used a sixth-round pick last year at the trade deadline to acquire starting nose tackle Johnathan Hankins, who they re-signed for this season and will enter into a two-down rotation at the nose this year.

Pretty darn good start, eh?

Then go into how they found what looks like an unmovable object with their first-round pick in "The Maz," defensive tackle Mazi Smith, a much-needed third tight end in Luke Schoonmaker, who just might start, a mobile linebacker likely to become the next great special teamer in DeMarvion Overshown while biding his time to earn defensive snaps and, if nothing else, just maybe the sleeper of the draft in Eric Scott Jr., who seemingly has skills far beyond having traded for the top pick in the sixth round to take him.

To me, a helluva draft considering their position location and how they used all their picks, while having to use patience when seeing their top tight end, Sam LaPorta, go off the board at the top of the second, along with several possibilities at guard, and not to mention their two draftable kickers sooner than they would have hoped for, along with a couple of those groom-able backup quarterbacks.

"It's the penalty of being good," said Will McClay, the Cowboys vice president of player personnel. "You set your board, and everybody has guys they like and think they can add value to (the team). But we don't control that. We control our board and what we think about the next guy that's up there.

"It is what it is. There is nothing you can do about it."

Sort of like the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young lyrics, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with."

We could go on and on.

But then life got in the way. Real life. Raw emotions. Hugs. Tears.

Maybe truly the most supercalifragilisticexpialidocious moment in my now 39th year of covering a Dallas Cowboys NFL Draft, and if that is a make-believe word, then fittingly for this most Disney moment:

With the 212th pick in the draft, the 35th one in the sixth round and with their second-to-last draft choice, a compensatory one at that, the Cowboys select Deuce Vaughn, not only running back from Kansas State, an improbable talent himself during his All-America career at just 5 feet 5 inches, but also the son of Chris Vaughn, the Cowboys' assistant director of college scouting sitting right there in the war room who had no earthly idea what the Cowboys were up to.

Let that sink in if you're a parent. If you have kids. When they accomplish something, and I don't care if it's throwing a touchdown pass, winning a band competition, singing a solo, starring in a school play, heck, getting married, you cry.

Chris Vaughn cried. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones teared up, choked up. So did most everyone in that war room while giving Chris a standing ovation as he walked to the front to hug Jones with thanks and just about everyone one else within reach.

Hell, tears crept into my eyes just watching the video live.

And what was so heartfelt, the ruse was on. Jones played the announcement in the war room to the height. See, when the Cowboys side-barred, with Chris out in the hallway, everyone knew who the pick was going to be but Chris, and along with the rest of us watching the war room cam. And while the Cowboys were on the clock, Jerry began this prolonged discourse about just who they should take.

He talked about a receiver or two for seemingly like forever, but probably just a minute. It was to the tune of, should we take this guy or should we take that guy?

Then he paused, not so much for dramatic effect, but to compose himself because his emotions were about to take over and blurts out:

"Put Vaughn's name on that card," meaning that of Deuce Vaughn.

"I was still trying to process not only was he getting drafted," said Chris, who knew time was running out on his son getting drafted with even Deuce starting to think for the first time his 5-5 height was about to catch up with him, "but that WE'RE drafting him."

But this tale does not stop there. The Cowboys wanted Chris to make the call to his son, since none of this is live on TV. Deuce has no idea. So on the phone the Cowboys use to inform the chosen player the Cowboys have drafted him, Deuce is dialed up and the phone is handed over to Chris.

"Hey buddy, this is dad," Chris says to Deuce, who sees the Dallas area code. "Look it here, you want to come to work with me next week?"

"I wouldn't mind that at all," was Deuce's response, with the entire war room erupting in cheers and applause on both ends of that line.

As for Deuce, "For it to happen like this, it's hard to put into words. I'm going to keep saying it's unreal because it feels unreal right now."

And the marvelous part of this scene, the pick was real. At that point in the draft, Deuce Vaughn was the No. 1 pick left on the Cowboys' board, most deserving of this late sixth-round pick. This was no parochial move, not one bit doing a respected employee a favor, nor for his son.

And Chris knew the Cowboys' board. But the pro he is, did not advocate for his son. Not like when I was playing Little League baseball and deserved to be in the lineup, but instead they were playing the assistant coach's son instead.

"I just couldn't bring myself to say," Chris recounted in the draft meeting that was going on, "'Hey, let's look at that guy. He's the highest rated player left on our board right now.' I wanted whoever was going to take him, take him because he was Deuce Johnson, not because he was Deuce Vaughn, dad works for the organization."

Dad is such a pro.

Now son has a chance to be a pro too.

"I've never had an experience like that in the draft room," said Jones, and remember how special it has been for him go to work with his three kids in the organization: Stephen, Charlotte and Jerry Jr.

"Totally, totally unanticipated as far as the emotion of the moment and what had happened. We knew that was pretty serious business to be talking about somebody's son that truly deserved to be picked. That's the most important thing to understand. He is a very, very good college player. He deserved to be drafted. That's a big deal right there. …

"I know y'all probably heard when he got (on the phone), but his voice broke when he called his son and said, 'Son, you're going to be coming to work with me tomorrow.'"

Oh, that Jerry. Unreal. Leaving most everyone nearly speechless, a true rarity for myself, too, so all I've got to say is:


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