10 Thoughts from Day 1 of the NFL Draft as I emptied my notebook from post-draft talks with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and vice president Stephen Jones.
1. The Cowboys had Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott rated as the top player on their draft board. He was No. 1. Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey was No. 2. Even though the Cowboys had bigger needs on defense, they went with Elliott because he will have a bigger and more immediate impact for the entire team. The Cowboys say Elliott graded out higher on their board than any running back in years. That includes 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley of the St. Louis Rams. “He is the biggest impact player we could take,” owner Jerry Jones said. “That is what we should do. If we are that high, we should take the biggest impact player we could take. I didn’t want to be this high and not come out of here with some impact. He was the chance to give us the most impact plays.”
2. The Cowboys got Elliott to give them what had when they went 12-4 in 2014 with DeMarco Murray leading a run-based offense. I would contend the reason the Cowboys didn’t get over the hump and lost to Green Bay in the divisional playoffs was because of the holes they had on defense, particularly the lack of a pass rush. Stephen Jones pointed out that the defense might be still limited heading into next season, but it is already better than the unit they had in 2014. That team didn’t have linebacker Sean Lee. That team was playing with George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey as their two best defensive ends. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory will be suspended for the first four games next season and are not finished products as pass rushers, but Jones said they will be back on the field and both are better than Mincey and Selvie.
3. The Cowboys considered trading back with Baltimore from fourth to sixth in hopes of still getting Elliott and picking up some extra picks. The deal eventually fell apart, but wouldn’t have happened anyway after the Cowboys found out that Baltimore was trying to trade up to No. 4 to get Ezekiel Elliott, who was the apple of the Cowboys eye. “We didn’t find that out until after we picked,” Jerry Jones said. “We just couldn’t make a deal at the time. We didn’t see enough there to take any risk at all on getting Elliott. But then later, it would have been for naught anyway because they said they were going to let us know who they were taking. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Stephen (Jones) have a great relationship and Ozzie said ‘well of course I’ll tell you who I’m going to take just in case we’re not taking your guy’. Turns out they were.
4. A lot of storylines came out before the draft that Jerry Jones wanted Elliott and others wanted Ramsey. Well, the truth is there was no disagreement at all. This was not Jones getting his way. There was a true consensus on Elliott from the offensive coaches, the defensive coaches, the scouts and the front office.
5. The Cowboys tried to trade back in the first round to get quarterback Paxton Lynch. The Cowboys offered their second- and third-round picks to Seattle, but the Seahawks got a better deal from the Denver Broncos. Jerry Jones said the Cowboys thought they had a deal done and they tried really hard to get Lynch, a quarterback he said had the most upside in the draft. That the Cowboys tried to get Lynch speaks more about their impressions of him than an overriding need to get a successor for Romo in this draft. The Cowboys might take a developmental quarterback in Day 2 or Day 3 or they might not take one at all. What we do know is that they truly wanted Lynch.
6. If the Cowboys would have traded their second- and third-round picks to get Lynch, it would have meant that they wouldn’t have been able to take a defensive player until the fourth round at the earliest. After taking a running back in the first round and going quarterback, it would have been crippling for a defense-needy team to come away empty for the first three rounds. Jerry Jones said he thought it would have been a high price to pay as second- and third-round players are considered impact players and potential starters. Again, that speaks to how high they felt about Lynch. “At the end of the day, he is a fine young man and he has got a chance as a prospect to be a top player in the league,” Jones said. “I’m not ashamed to try to get it done.”
7. A giddy Jerry Jones was in a story-telling mood after the draft Thursday night. He started explaining why he wasn’t necessarily interested in trying to develop a late-round quarterback because of the lack of snaps available in practice. He told a great story about how he and Bill Parcells knew Tony Romo was going to be star when he was still an unknown backup before the 2006 season. “Getting snaps has to be a very deliberate thing and it’s usually whether or not, if you put high consideration in a draft pick or money-wise, then they get snaps and they get repetitions in games,” Jones said. “I remember Tony Romo sat in the office with me and Bill Parcells right before the last preseason game. And we were needing an extension of his contract. And he said, ‘One of the reasons I want you to pay me more money is with an investment in me, you will play me.’ And he said, ‘I love (Drew) Bledsoe, but I need you to put some skin in the game so I can get in the game. I’ve got to play or I may just sit like this the rest of my career.’ Boy, I mean, he looked me straight in the eye and he looked at Bill and didn’t blink. You thought you were talking to somebody that had been negotiating for 50 years. He said, ‘Mr. Jones, you take those incentives, you chop them up, I’ll talk to my boys and we’ll get a deal done.’ He walked out of that room and that Parcells looked at me and said, ‘We got us a quarterback.’ That kid has got it. He talked to us right to the eye.”
8. The Cowboys signed guard Ron Leary to his restricted free-agent tender on Thursday so they can use him as trade bait on the final two days of the draft. No one was trading for Ron Leary on Day 1. But he could come into play on the final two days. Stephen Jones said it has to be a situation that is beneficial to everyone. There is no secret that Leary wants to go somewhere he can start. He lost his starting job to La’el Collins last year , after starting every game in 2013 and 2014. The have no problem bringing him back and aren’t going to move him unless they get a deal they like. But it certainly is something that is on the table.
9. At this point, the Cowboys plan on keeping all four running backs in Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar. However, there is no way the Cowboys will be able to take four running backs to the game. And usually when you dress three running backs, one is asked to play special teams. Elliott, McFadden and Morris are not covering kicks or returning kicks. Dunbar is a kick return option when healthy, but Lucky Whitehead is expected to be the primary kick returner. All four running backs might go to training camp. All four might not be on the final roster.
10. Look for the Cowboys to focus on defense in the second and third rounds on Day 2 of the draft on Friday. Jerry Jones said there a few players on still on the board who have first-round grades. Names to watch include Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings, Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander, Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, LSU cornerback Jalen Mills, Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd and Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard.