When it comes to the Cowboys defense these days, there is almost an expectation for bad news, it seems. You expect it to rain when you wish for sunshine, because no matter which way you walk, a cloud is going to follow you.
And it happened again, yesterday. Just as many of us in the media were buzzing about the new and flashy edge rusher from Boise State – DeMarcus Lawrence was starting to show on practice snaps as a guy who stood out – down he went. Holding his ankle in pain.
I am no medical professional, so I will just follow the reporters’ work and say that this is the last we shall see of Mr Lawrence until October. What a shame for a man who had a lot to offer from the looks of it.
Now, this might be considered a small blessing in disguise because I have feared the unreasonable expectations that are being put on the kid. Those likely will all convert to the equivalent of redshirting the rookie, now, but when you are playing the same position, and have the same first name, and were the target of a trade up in the draft….Let’s just say that anything less than 8-10 sacks for that rookie was going to be very difficult to achieve. But, it seemed that the expectation level was pretty much there.
In the previous 10 drafts (2004-13), there have been 50 defensive ends and outside linebackers â your potential edge rushers â selected in the second round. Those 50 averaged only 1.7 sacks in their rookie seasons. Only four of the 50 managed five or more sacks as rookies.
Thirty of the 50 collected one sack or less as rookies. Twenty failed to sack a single quarterback in their rookie seasons and 10 failed to sack a quarterback in their NFL careers. Thirty-two of the 50 have fewer than 10 career sacks.
Now, we should just be happy if he becomes a regular in the 2nd half of the season and demonstrates the ability to contribute. In the meantime, this likely tells us where his fellow Boise State alum, Tyrone Crawford will play (LDE rather than tackle) and join George Selvie there. Meanwhile, depth signing veteran Jeremy Mincey and some emerging name (No, we don’ t think Anthony Spencer is going to be ready by Opening Day) that I can’t possibly imagine will have to deal with that right side for Week 1-7 or so.
Just add more to the plate of Rod Marinelli and this defense. You thought the defense was bad last year? Well what if we take Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware away? No issue? Well, that is silly. What if we then take Sean Lee away with a knee injury? Not in tears yet? Ok, here goes DeMarcus Lawrence.
The point is that this defense CAN be worse. If the takeaways dry up or the fumble luck expires, it can get worse. I don’t think it will be, because they do have more depth and this is not catastrophic, but it certainly does take away the one young "difference maker" that appeared on the depth chart.
However, it does speak back to an issue I have been very clear about, which is the Cowboys constant risks in roster building that are a result of their trade up mentality. This puts all eggs into fewer baskets, which makes you more susceptible to the freak injury. If, for instance, you had Kony Ealy and Will Sutton, or Timmy Jernigan and Louis Nix instead of both picks stacked onto the shoulders of DeMarcus Lawrence, you spread out your risk to multiple players and one bad step doesn’t threaten to ruin your draft’s impact on 2014.
But, here we are. One injury, and suddenly, we are concerned about no draft upgrades on the defense for the entirety of the 1st half of the season.
There simply is no way to predict with conclusive success how a young man will deal with a major step up in competition, a major amount of money in his pocket, a new level of pressures, expectations, and life experiences, and just the most under-rated burden of his body staying fit enough to contribute.
Therefore, we have tried to learned what works the best for teams who are drafting well. And what constitutes drafting well?
Well, from this spot, it appears that we have learned that the best teams in drafting over the last NFL generation: Baltimore, Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh all seem to come up when we have these conversations – all have a few things in common. It starts with the fact that everyone of them make mistakes. They make a lot of mistakes. They spend high picks on guys who fail and don’t even make the team. They think they have gold when in reality they don’t. They swing as hard as they can and they miss.
So, how are they still able to be thought of as one of the best drafting teams in the business if they are making these mistakes?
Numbers. They throw numbers at the problem. They use the shotgun approach, rather than the sniper tactics. You can use your precision shooting, we are going to follow a process and a prototype for all of our picks and we are just going to grab the highest candidate who falls to our spot, rinse, and repeat.
Now, this certainly doesn’t mean that those teams aren’t trading up when the time is right. They all do. It also doesn’t mean that they aren’t trading for veteran players with draft picks or whiffing altogether on a move where they swung too hard. But, it does know that they realize that the batting average is not the whole story. Sometimes, the number of at bats is what truly matters.
That is a way of saying that the thing that troubles me about the 2014 Cowboys draft was that they did something that I believe they simply could not do. And something they have done too many times in this Cowboys era (2007-present, or said another way, since Jerry Jones sat back in the king’s throne with no equal power broker).
They did what we call, "trading up to get your guy." We call it that because just about every draft in this era, we have "traded up to get our guy" used in a post-draft press conference when describing someone in the Top 3 rounds. To do so, they spend a ton of assets, and put all of their proverbial eggs in one basket.
In 2007, they traded up to get Anthony Spencer (a 2nd, a 3rd, and a 5th), Mike Jenkins in 2008 (traded up using a 1st, 5th, and 7th), Dez Bryant in 2010 (a 1st and a 3rd for Dez and a 4th), Sean Lee (a 2nd and a 4th), and in 2012, Morris Claiborne (a 1st and a 2nd). Add in the 2009 Roy Williams trade (a 1st, a 3rd, and a 6th for Roy and a 7th), and this weekend’s Demarcus Lawrence trade (a 2nd and a 3rd) the total is shocking: 7 players for 17 picks (and 2 additional lesser picks in return).
In each case, afterwards, those who wish to look at the cup as half full reason the deal as saying, "well, if you are sure that he is that good you should secure the player." But, in aggregate, you continue to give away bodies. If you consider Top 100 picks where teams find the majority of their starters (and most experts do), then you gave 2 starters for Spencer, 2 for Dez, 2 for Lee, 2 for Claiborne, 2 for Roy Williams, and 2 for Demarcus Lawrence. In other words, 6 players at the cost of 12 starters.
If we do a 2 for 1 deal once in a while for the right guy – Seattle thinks Percy Harvin (a 1st, a 3rd, and a 7th) was worth it, Green Bay wanted to move up to get Clay Matthews (a 2nd, a 3rd, and a 3rd), then fine. But, can you do it 6 times in 8 years? The Cowboys just did.
DeMarcus Lawrence is not injury prone. You could argue this is a freak injury that will be just a small detail in his bio some day that develops into a Pro Bowl career. It could have happened to anyone yesterday. So, all of this is a cheap second guess, right?
Not if we have said it over and over. And if you read this blog, you know I have. You cannot pay the cost of 2 starting players to get 1 because it weakens your roster and over-leverages how much you depend on that 1 target to change everything. It is gambling. In fact, it is doubling-down constantly.
Once in a while, you can survive that wildcatting mentality. But, over the course of several years, you take 12 Top 100 picks and flip them for 6 players. If they all turn into Dez Bryant, you are fine. But, of course, they never could because Dez is the outlier.
Again, this sort of bad news becomes expected around here. I think they are digging out of their defensive hole, but this is a real setback and the cloud of bad news remains hanging over head.
Luckily, if this was August 30th, they would be in a much worse predicament. July 30 gives them plenty of time to figure out a plan, even though they may be choosing from a list of less-than-ideal plans right now.