IRVING -- Draft Day trades have been a constant in the Dallas Cowboys' war room since owner Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989.
On Thursday, trader Jerry might have outdone himself with an impressive move up the draft board to select standout LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The move not only adds a shutdown cornerback for Rob Ryan's defense but also a game-changing playmaker not seen by Cowboys scouts since the days of Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
The Cowboys traded the 14th and the 45th overall (second round) picks to the St. Louis Rams for the sixth pick to select Claiborne, who was not only the best cornerback in the draft but was the top defensive player on their draft board and the second-best player behind quarterback Andrew Luck, who went No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts.
"He is the best cornerback prospect our scouts have graded since Deion," Jones said. "He is a difference-maker."
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Claiborne is the team's highest pick since they took Terence Newman fifth overall in 2003.
It was Jones' 59th draft-day trade since 1989, the 18th involving a first-round pick.
Claiborne, 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, was first-team All-American in 2011 and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back. He had 11 interceptions the past two years, including six last season. He is also a standout kickoff returner.
But this pick was about Claiborne's abilities as a shutdown cornerback and a continual upgrade of a Cowboys defense that gave up more passing yards the past two seasons than any time in team history.
Despite signing cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million contract in free agency and having 2008 first-round pick Mike Jenkins in the fold for at least one more year, Jones said Claiborne was the guy he wanted. And when he didn't go in the top four picks, the Cowboys made the move to get him.
"We said before the draft the only player we had an interest in moving up to get was Claiborne," Jones said. "We had serious doubts he would get to six. But then the opportunity presented itself, and they started taking players in front of him and the price was right for us. To go from 14 to six, you got to give up something. By a lot of charts you got to give up more. To a get a difference-maker on defense, we pulled the trigger."
The move was certainly a pleasant surprise to Claiborne, a Shreveport native who grew up a Cowboys fan in a family full of Cowboys fans.
He was always pegged to go into the top 6, possibly as high as third. He had visited with a number of teams before draft, but none were the Cowboys. He was not among the Cowboys' 30 predraft visits and only spent a little time with assistant defensive backs coach Joe Baker at the scouting combine.
"I didn't see it coming in a million years," Claiborne said Thursday night in a conference call. "I had no idea. When I got the call, I looked back at my family and they asked who it was, I told them it was the Cowboys. To see the look on their faces melted me. All those guys were Cowboys fans."
The only slight downside to the pick was that Claiborne recently had surgery to repair ligament damage in his left wrist. The Cowboys said he will miss organized team activities and the June minicamp, but he will be ready for training camp in August.
Claiborne said he will not let the Cowboys down.
"They sacrificed a lot to come down to get me, but I feel like I'm worth it," Claiborne said. "I know my talents. I know what kind of guy they're looking for. They want me to come in and play right away and be a lock-down guy. I feel like I can come in right away and do that."
That is certainly what the Cowboys are looking to get from Claiborne, who along with Carr has turned a position that has been an Achilles' heel the past few years into a strength. Jones said they have wanted to improve at cornerback for some time and now they have.
“We’ve been needing to work on the secondary,” Jones said. “When Wade [Phillips] was [coach], I talked to Wade about it. This is not something that’s new. We had hoped upon hope and certainly Rob had hoped with the head of the pack that Terence could really be what we wanted him to be. So obviously that didn’t work out. That’s just the way it is. But I like the way we’ve come back.”
It has created a logjam at cornerback with Jenkins, a former Pro Bowler, and nickel back Orlando Scandrick to go along with Carr and Claiborne. There is a chance the Cowboys could move Jenkins, who is in the final year of his contract.
But cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he can find time for all of them because the NFL is a passing league and you can never have too many corners. But he agreed with Jones in saying Claiborne was too good a prospect to pass up because he is a difference maker.
“Cornerback is a premium position,” Garrett said. “We feel to add a guy like this was the right thing to do. He has instincts. He has vision. He has the ability to make plays. He is a game changing playmaker. He can make plays on the ball and change the game. He is also an outstanding kickoff returner. That is certainly another part of why he is an attractive player.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr.