Time for Cowboys to plan ahead, draft young QB

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton With the start of the NFL Draft just one day away, the Dallas Cowboys need (pick one):

• a miracle

• offensive line help

• a defensive lineman who can both rush the passer and stop the run

• Jimmy Johnson

An underachieving, 8-8 team, it seems, has lots of needs. Which is why some of us wouldn’t be startled Thursday night, if owner and self-appointed draft wizard Jerry Jones parachutes out of the first round’s No. 18 spot in exchange for extra picks.

He’s done it before, of course. As our paper’s Charean Williams cruelly reminded this week, Owner Jones has been at the helm for 59 draft-day trades since he bought the Cowboys. He’ll move up; he’ll move down. Jones, the eternal wildcatter, likes the action.

The hunch here, therefore, is that Jerry will see that none of the offensive linemen the scouts covet will be left on the board, and the Cowboys will slide down in the draft order for the chance to select someone who is (1) cheaper and (2) less likely to be burdened with high expectations.

This is why the Cowboys are like the Texas Two-Step — a lot of movement, but always ending in more or less the same place.

So what will it eventually be — lineman, pass rusher, a new safety for Monte Kiffin’s defense, or a wide receiver to complement Dez Bryant?

Or, perchance, my earnest suggestion: Draft a quarterback. Not in the first round, but early enough to secure a young and promising one.

Owner Jones doesn’t want to think about the future, because he realizes that he probably doesn’t have a lot of it to think about. Jerry will turn 71 this next football season so, in effect, he probably signed quarterback Tony Romo to a lifetime contract — his life, not Romo’s.

The franchise’s failure, however, to acquire an heir apparent at the position will come back to haunt the Cowboys one day, as it does most teams.

Since the Super Bowl years of the mid-1990s, the Jones regime has spent draft picks on quarterbacks only twice — Quincy Carter, second round in 2001, and Stephen McGee, picked in the fourth round in 2009. Both were busts.

By comparison, consider the New England Patriots, who have won 18 playoff games during the same period in which Jones’ team has won one. Despite having Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have drafted quarterbacks six times since 2002. The current possible Brady successor is Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, drafted in 2011.

When head coaches get hired in the NFL, they almost always shop for a new quarterback. Mike Smith in Atlanta immediately drafted Matt Ryan. In Miami, Cam Cameron drafted BYU’s John Beck in 2007, and Tony Sparano the following year signed Chad Pennington.

In 2011, even though the 49ers had a starting quarterback, new coach Jim Harbaugh used his No. 2 pick to draft Colin Kaepernick.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, best of this year’s crop, isn’t in the Cowboys’ draft plans. Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, however, would be an intriguing pick.

Like Romo, Manuel can extend a play. But whereas Romo is a survivor on most of his scrambles, Manuel forces a defense to respect his speed. When the Cowboys finally do get around to drafting Thursday or Friday, he might be the best athlete available.

Since the advent of the collective bargaining agreement’s rookie wage scale, the cost and anxiety of drafting a young quarterback have gone down. No more JaMarcus Russell ($61 million) or Sam Bradford ($78 million) contracts.

Owner Jones may be plotting another Romo-friendly draft. It would be more prudent to have a fan-friendly season. Another playoff-less season with Romo at quarterback could — and should — provoke howls.

As the draft nears, it’s time for Jones to think about the franchise’s future, and not just Romo’s present.

Romo was a once-in-a-franchise-lifetime, free-agent find. Smart teams, at some point, plan ahead at quarterback.

How does Thursday or Friday sound?

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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