Cowboys pass on Manziel to take Notre Dame lineman

Posted Friday, May. 09, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Zack Martin

1st round, No. 16; Notre Dame

Ht.: 6-4, Wt.: 308

Hometown: Indianapolis

Highlights: Started a school-record 52 consecutive games at Notre Dame. ... Only player to win the Guardian of the Year (top lineman award) four times at Notre Dame. ... Started all but two games at left tackle for the Irish. ... School says he had 47 “touchdown-clearing blocks” and 416 “key blocks/knockdowns.”

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Everybody wanted a circus.

Some even rooted for a circus.

And certainly the drama was there when it came time for the Dallas Cowboys to pick 16th overall Thursday night in the NFL Draft’s first round.

Texas A&M lightning-rod quarterback Johnny Manziel was on the board and the team’s top defensive targets had already been taken.

But what appeared to be a match made in JerryWorld heaven gave way to the sanity of what was right for the football team.

The Cowboys resisted the temptation of taking Manziel, selecting Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin instead.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys considered several trade offers when they were on the clock, but decided they didn’t want to give up the opportunity to draft Martin. But they never gave a thought about taking Manziel.

“Tony [Romo] had everything to do with this decision,” Jones said. “We have a big commitment to Tony. There is no way a quarterback comes in and beats out Tony Romo. He is going to be the quarterback for the Cowboys for years to come.”

Asked about forever being known in Texas as the player the Cowboys took instead of the much-hyped and immensely popular Manziel, Martin didn’t flinch.

“That’s fine by me. I can live up to that,” Martin said on a conference call from his parents’ home in Indianapolis. “It means everything to me. I’m ready to go down there and start competing and being a member of this team. I couldn’t be happier.”

Martin, ranked as the fourth-best tackle in the draft, doesn’t fill any of the team’s many needs on the defensive side of the ball but, according to the Cowboys, he was the best player left on their draft board.

More important, he is another building block for the offensive line that now has three young first-round picks, joining left tackle Tyron Smith in 2011 and center Travis Frederick in 2013.

The Cowboys did not take an offensive lineman in the first round from 1981-2010, but now have taken one in the first round in three of the past four years.

If you can’t help the defense, then why not give franchise quarterback Tony Romo, who is coming off back surgery for the second consecutive off-season, more protection.

Look for the Cowboys to plug Martin in at right guard next to Doug Free with a possible move to tackle in 2015 when Free becomes a free agent. Martin said they spoke to him about playing guard Thursday night.

“One of my biggest things is my versatility,” Martin said. “Anything I can do to help the team is what I’m willing to do.”

The Cowboys have 10 more picks in the draft and will most certainly address the defense when they resume with the second and third rounds on Friday.

The choice of Martin capped a suspenseful first round for the Cowboys, whose initial focus was on defense, then had the specter of a falling Manziel.

The Cowboys came into the draft hoping to get UCLA defensive Anthony Barr to replace the DeMarcus Ware, who signed with Denver, as the team’s pass rush specialist. But Barr went ninth to the Minnesota Vikings.

Their next target was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was considered a perfect fit for the three-technique position in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 scheme. But the St. Louis Rams nabbed him with the 13th pick.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier with the 15th pick, putting the Cowboys on the clock with Manziel still on the board.

However, with Will McClay leading the war room for the first time as the assistant director of player personnel, the Cowboys chose the fundamentally sound philosophy of building a team up front over the flash and specter of selling tickets and garnering attention with Manziel.

“I didn’t know where I was going to land, but I couldn’t be happier,” Martin said. “When I got the call and saw that Dallas number pop up on my phone, I was very excited.”

The Manziel drama lasted a few more picks until he was chosen by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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