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Draft Central | 2024

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Spagnola: Tight-Roping to achieve 1st-round goals


FRISCO, Texas – Maybe you've heard of The Flying Wallendas.

If not, here is the best description: The Flying Wallendas is a circus act and group of daredevil stunt performers who perform high-wire acts without a safety net.

Well, now meet The Flying Joneses, a high-wire NFL Draft act who perform without a safety net, especially in the first rounds of drafts.

They were in fine display out here on Thursday during the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, taking calculated risks, causing them – along with their draft spotters, head coach Mike McCarthy and vice president of player personnel Will McClay – to somewhat hold their breath while trying to achieve their predetermined goals. And this despite having just the 24th pick in the first round, the punishment in the socialized NFL where the meek shall inherit for going 12-5 this past season.

To me, seemed to have three goals: First, come away with an offensive lineman, preferably a left tackle or center. Second, if they didn't have to play their hole card, why, they could keep Pro Bowl left guard Tyler Smith right there and not have to move him back to tackle to compensate for the free agency loss of future Hall of Famer Tyron Smith. And third, and maybe the highest priority, try to obtain an extra second-day draft choice if possible.

That meant moving down out of the 24th pick into the low 20s or maybe even as far as 30-32 to possibly grab a player they wanted, but also pick up a third or fourth rounder since they already had used this year's fourth on a quarterback when trading with San Francisco last year to acquire Trey Lance.

Before the draft even began, I thought if the Cowboys got to 24, and they had like five guys they wouldn't have minded ending up with, why not trade down to grab that coveted extra pick?

In fact, around 4:30 when interviewing Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for a taped segment to be aired at the Dallas Cowboys Draft Party, asked him, Since you have conducted 71 draft-day trades since becoming owner in 1989, what are the possibilities of trading down tonight to pick up maybe a third or fourth?

Jerry never flinched, saying there was an "80 percent possibility" of trading down. Well, now. Go ahead.

And somewhat surprising, the draft began doing them favors and then took them away. For the first time in NFL history, six quarterbacks were selected within the first 12 picks. Great, that pushing players they had interest in closer to 24. Then three wide receivers and a tight end they had no intentions of drafting went within the first 13 picks. Then a run of six defensive players within the next eight selections.

Bad part, six offensive tackles, likely considered the highest-ranked ones, already were gone by time the Cowboys got on the clock at 24.

Go ahead, Jerry and Stephen. Step out on the high wire.

The Cowboys started fielding calls to trade down. Several trade offers to choose from. And when seeing COO Stephen Jones on the War Room cam grab the phone with two minutes remaining on the 10-minute pick allotment, sure seemed a good chance a trade was in the works. And within the last minute, the call went into the NFL, a trade indeed.

The Cowboys were trading their 24th pick in the first round and a next year's seventh to the Detroit Lions for their 29th selection and a third rounder, the 73rd overall pick – ninth in the third round – to pair with their own third, 87th overall. That is some fine draft trade ammo, if nothing else.

But now that wire starts to teeter. The way the Cowboys figured it, they had four players they'd be happy ending up with. They were now five picks away. They liked their odds, but stomachs churned, seemingly especially that of the spotters.

"It was tense waiting," Stephen Jones said. "No question we were taking some risk there."

The four players they had in mind were versatile offensive lineman and likely center Graham Barton of Duke, offensive left tackle Jordan Morgan of Arizona, defensive lineman Darius Robinson of Missouri and offensive mostly right tackle Tyler Guyton of Oklahoma.

And after the Lions took cornerback Terrion Arnold of Alabama with the Cowboys' pick, a move they knew would happen, now came the breath-holding. Sort of like hitting on a 12 in Blackjack, fearing the 10. Some wobbling on that wire began.

Bam at 25, there goes Morgan to Green Bay.

Bam at 26, there goes Barton to Tampa Bay.

Bam at 27, there goes Robinson to Arizona.

Only Guyton was left.

Kansas City now on the clock, a team at 32 that was trying to trade up to the Cowboys pick at 24. Instead, the Chiefs swung a deal with Buffalo to move to 28. They were certain what the Chiefs were going to do, selecting Texas wideout Xavier Worthy.

The sigh of relief was tornadic. Their guy Guyton still was there.

Even Guyton admitted when the Cowboys traded down that, knowing they had interest in him, "My heart dropped because I really love the Cowboys."

So the Cowboys weathered the storm. Got their left tackle but with an asterisk. Guyton, a former tight end in high school and defensive lineman had played minimal games at tackle after transferring from TCU to Oklahoma where he's started just 14 games over two years, primarily at right tackle.

A reach? The Cowboys insist the conversion to the left side should not be a huge problem protecting Dak Prescott's blindside. After all, at Oklahoma he protected the blindside of left-handed quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

Difficult transition?

McCarthy said he one time had to move Josh Sid from right guard to left guard, "and he gave me the best description of the difficulty of moving from right guard to left guard (saying), 'It's like wiping your ass with the opposite hand.'"

You go, coach.

But now, to me, here is the entire key to this trade down and selecting of Guyton:

What the Cowboys do with the ninth pick in the third round. They've got to hit to qualify this move. And maybe if they have a targeted player on Friday in the second round, they can now parlay one of their thirds to move up significantly. Or pair maybe a fifth with one of their thirds to make a move.

Remember 2013 when the Cowboys made a nearly similar move in the first round? They traded down from the 18th pick to No. 31 to draft future Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, and then used the third-round pick they acquired in the deal to select future starting wideout Terrance Williams. Also remember they were criticized for taking Frederick, many considering him a second-round pick. But how's that for splitting hairs since he was three picks away from being in the second.

Words, critical words, were eaten.

So now we see. See if Guyton, the eighth offensive tackle off the board, is good enough to start Day One at left tackle. Now we see today what the Cowboys do with that 73rd pick in the draft along with the 87th.

Now we see if they successfully manipulated to the other end of the high wire.

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