Cowboys have to hit on Day 2 picks to make their strategy pay off

Posted Saturday, Apr. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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engel The Dallas Cowboys needed a blocking tight end, so naturally they selected a tight end whose forte is catching passes.

The Cowboys didn’t need a wide receiver, so naturally they selected Baylor’s Terrance Williams, whose primary mission early in his career will be to scare the blank out of Miles Austin.

The Cowboys did need a safety, and with the 80th pick that’s what they choose — a guy who has played one year of the position at a small college. The good news is that J.J. Wilcox does fit the Cowboys’ 4-3 defense, and more importantly can knock a question out of the park.

“Mr. Jerry Jones is one of the best GMs and best owners I’ve ever met,” Wilcox said on the conference call with reporters shortly after he was picked.

I absolutely love this answer.

Thus far the Cowboys have drafted for need, best player available, potential starters, and guys to make Tony Romo’s life easier. Of the four draftees, two of these guys need to start immediately but only one will — center Travis Frederick. He must be an immediate upgrade over Not Him Again at center for this draft to have a positive effect early in the season.

“Romo called and said, ‘Thank you for that extra half-second,’” Jerry said after Day 2 of the draft concluded.

There is some rich irony in how the Cowboys operate a draft room. They are led by a cartoonishly wealthy man who can simply afford just about everything but a spaceship. Yet despite his wealth he shops the draft the way most of us peasants would work a flee market; he is constantly bargain-shopping and trying to get one by the store owner. At some point you have to pay the premium price for a premium product.

Regardless, we need to quit asking questions why the Cowboys traded down, or selected a replacement for Jason Witten in the second round when there were greater needs to be addressed (safety?). These are the Cowboys, and they do things the way they do things. Our best move is to just simply hope that maybe it works.

Question the picks if you must, but do not question Jerry making a move to load up on Rounds 2, 3 or 4. That’s where the deals are found, and no one loves deals as much as Jerry. Their plan is sound, it’s the execution that doesn’t always hit (see the ’08 and ’09 draft classes).

When the 49ers traded up to draft LSU safety Eric Reid at that 18th spot, you thought, “That’s a team that knows what they are doing and they just took our safety.”

Four students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute recently published a study titled “Evaluating Talent Acquisition Via the NFL Draft,” and it covered all the drafts from 2000 to 2012.

The study shows that the second-round picks combine for 70 percent of the production of first-round picks at 40 percent of the salary. Just call it bargain-shopping.

This whole study is entirely about cost-benefit analysis, and it says your best buys are never in the first round. There is a reason why Jerry doesn’t like drafting high in the first round, and it has little to do with the fact that it meant having a poor record to get that top pick.

Here is the rub: If the draftees from Rounds 2, 3 or 4 can’t play, who cares what the plan is?

The Cowboys did this back in ’08 when they selected Martellus Bennett out of Texas A&M with a second-round pick.

“He was productive for us,” Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said.

I asked Stephen how he defined “productive” and the exchange was a rather spirited debate about Bennett’s career with the Cowboys. Stephen’s defines “productive” as a player who contributes a significant amount during his time with the team. My definition? There has to be more production from guys like Bennett, or any second- or third-rounder, before we call them productive.

If you are going to go hard on the second and third rounds, you better not miss. There must be more production from a second- or a third-round pick if this team is going to do anything other than win eight games every year.

“It stresses your resources if you don’t hit on those guys because then you have to dig in free agency,” Stephen said.

By the team’s definition, they didn’t technically miss on Bennett. But there is a reason why they drafted Gavin Escobar. Jerry said this move is not to look for Witten’s replacement.

We won’t know for a while if the Cowboys hit Frederick, Escobar, Williams or Wilcox.

What we do know for sure is that Frederick must be, as the owner says, a “foundation” player immediately. Two of the other guys better develop into productive players by the second year.

The plan makes sense. The execution, however …

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @macengelprof

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