On draft day at Valley Ranch 11 months ago, the son turned to the father — both giddy from the trade they had just made — and conjectured an intriguing possibility.
"Do you realize," Stephen Jones said to Jerry Jones, "that this pick could end up being [Darren] McFadden?"
They hee-hawed, or called the Hogs, or whatever it is that millionaire ex-Arkansas Razorbacks do these days, and son Stephen’s suggestion, I’m guessing, was then filed away in a drawer somewhere.
But not too far away. You don’t have to know how to call the Hogs to like Darren McFadden.
Some have said that McFadden, a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up, has the size, strength and speed to be the next Adrian Peterson. And they would be wrong.
McFadden is better than Peterson. And he’ll be a more valuable NFL running back because he’s more durable.
I don’t base this on my experience playing Madden 2007 or the college version, like some self-styled draft gurus do. I certainly didn’t come to this conclusion after watching McFadden and his poorly prepared Razorbacks teammates get drilled in the Cotton Bowl.
No, I watched him play. My TiVo has a season pass for Southeastern Conference football. I’ve seen McFadden play in person.
I also saw, once upon a time, Tony Dorsett run with a football. And Emmitt Smith.
And as Dorsett and Smith both did for the Cowboys’ franchise, McFadden can, too. He is that good.
Fast. Versatile. Explosive. McFadden gets to enemy linebackers so quickly, it sometimes appears as if he’s running straight at them. Yet, he’s as elusive as Emmitt ever was and faster than Dorsett.
Trade up to draft McFadden? The Cowboys should consider such a deal only if.... only if they wish one day to return to the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys of the 1970s already had Roger Staubach. But drafting Dorsett in 1977 helped them to win a Super Bowl the very next season.
In 1990, the Cowboys already had Troy Aikman. But drafting Smith completed the puzzle. "The Triplets" won three Super Bowls.
You don’t need superstars to win in today’s NFL. It is, however, still the smart way to build your team.
Superstar quarterback Tom Brady had superstar receiver Randy Moss to throw to last season, and the New England Patriots went 16-0 during the regular season. Anybody want to guess what the Cowboys’ record would have been had they played half the season without star Terrell Owens?
McFadden, in other words, is worth trading up for. He is worth four high draft picks, just as Dorsett was 31 years ago. He is worth two No. 1 picks. He is worth, yes, whatever the Dolphins’ new vice-president, Bill Parcells, fishes for.
Well, almost whatever.
The draft choice that Stephen and Jerry Jones were chortling about 11 months ago, Cleveland’s 2008 No. 1 pick, was destined to be devalued. Congratulations are in order for the Browns, who had a surprising 10-6 season.
The Cowboys, as a result, have the first round’s 22nd and 28th picks, and two schools of thought have emerged. They could wait their turns, keep both picks, and draft the best cornerback and wide receiver that falls into their laps.
Or they could trade both first-round picks — and more — for the chance to move up in the draft and select McFadden.
The most frequently mentioned third party on the Cowboys’ end has been running back Marion Barber.
Let the teeth-gnashing begin. Cowboys fans love Barber. They love his style. He runs with conviction. Tony Romo might have provided the magic behind the team’s 13-3 regular season, but Barber, they say, provided the soul.
True, Barber is fun to watch. And let’s all hope that he had fun at the Pro Bowl.
But he’s no Darren McFadden. Just as Indiana’s Anthony Thompson, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1989, was no Emmitt Smith, who placed seventh.
If Parcells wants the two No. 1s and Marion Barber for the chance to select McFadden, the Cowboys need to be prepared to shout yes. It’s pricey, yes, and if the Cowboys can somehow hold onto Cleveland’s No. 1 and substitute their own 2009 first-round pick, they need to.
But passing up the once-in-10-years chance to select a McFadden, just because you like Barber’s grit? You’re fooling yourself.
The last time I attended a Pro Bowl, Mike Boryla was at quarterback. Never heard of him? That’s my point.
Barber might never make another one. McFadden is probably going to play in at least 10. If you prowl the Internet, there are highlight clips aplenty that star McFadden. Go see for yourself.
Cheaper alternatives at running back are said to be available — Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart and McFadden’s Hogs teammate, Felix Jones. But didn’t Jones learn anything from drafting Julius Jones?
In today’s NFL, a team still wins with superstars. The Cowboys’ own franchise history tells us that it’s always been so.
If Parcells calls, Owner Jones needs to listen. And then he can call the Hog.