IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys like to make it easy on folks who enjoy evaluating NFL draft classes. For instance, there’s only one remaining player from the 2008-09 drafts.
Typically, that’s not a good thing for the health of an organization. And that’s one of the many reasons Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones rarely receives the benefit of the doubt. In the Cowboys’ latest saga, they passed on the opportunity to claim either the top-rated tight end or defensive tackle in the draft at No. 18 overall in order to drop 13 spots and select Wisconsin center Travis Frederick.
The Cowboys’ benevolent trade chart only earned them a third-round pick in return, which they used to select Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams. That was a pick that was universally praised in terms of value, but it didn’t make up for the Cowboys’ curious decision to pass on Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert or Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. Jones would later explain that Floyd didn’t have the “quick-twitch” the Cowboys were looking for in a three-technique defensive tackle. It’s the sort of comic relief we’ve grown to love from Jones.
But after attending this past weekend’s rookie minicamp, I’m here to defend Jerry…to a certain extent. Before the draft even ended, I was already hearing a rumor that Jerry’s son, Stephen, had basically promised the Niners that the Cowboys would swap picks with them in the first round if LSU safety Eric Reid was available at No. 18. There were rumblings that deal had pretty much been made by the Thursday afternoon of the draft.
You don’t have to be a career scout to recognize how dangerous a deal like that is to an organization. What if a player that your organization loves (let’s say his last name is Floyd) starts to free-fall in the first round? If you’ve saddled yourself with a trade in advance, this becomes much more of a clinical process. It’s certainly not a strategy that seems to fit a “seat-of-his-pants” guy like Jerry.
On Monday, a source within the organization insisted that Stephen never promised that he would honor such a deal leading up to the draft. The Niners called before the draft and proposed such a scenario to the Cowboys, but Stephen only said that he would take it into consideration.
There’s a general belief across the league the Cowboys could’ve selected Floyd or Eifert at No. 18 and still landed Frederick with their second-round pick (47th overall). ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that at least one NFL executive had given Frederick a sixth-round grade. If you haven’t noticed, poking Jerry with a sharp stick is a favorite NFL pastime. And it’s it not like he hasn’t deserved it over the years.
But the Cowboys don’t believe Frederick would’ve been available where they were picking in the second round. And had they selected another player at No. 18, the Cowboys now say they would’ve traded up in the second round to secure Frederick (what else are they going to say?). They believe he’s a better player than his former Wisconsin teammate, Peter Konz, who was drafted in the second round by the Falcons in 2012 and will likely be their starting center this season.
Frederick struggled a bit during the rookie minicamp with his shotgun snaps, but he impressed with his mastery of the playbook at such an early stage. He doesn’t seem fazed by the criticism of how the Cowboys handled the first round of the draft. Of course, he unwittingly added fuel to the fire when he initially expressed surprise at being selected in the first round. In sort of a refreshing show of modesty on draft night, Frederick said he saw himself as more of a “second-round fit.”
The Cowboys know they could’ve made more of a splash by landing a player such as Floyd, but they believe trading down allowed them to create more depth on a roster that needed help in several areas.
“We think we landed at least three or four solid starters,” said one high-ranking member of the organization. “With that belief, it’s hard not to feel pretty good about things.”
And if Jerry can locate some “quick twitch” defensive linemen, who knows where this thing’s headed?