Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ pass on Johnny Manziel is a reason they are where they are

Guard Zack Martin (70) has been an All-Pro selection in each of his first two seasons in Dallas. He is one of three offensive linemen drafted in the first round by the Cowboys since 2011.
Guard Zack Martin (70) has been an All-Pro selection in each of his first two seasons in Dallas. He is one of three offensive linemen drafted in the first round by the Cowboys since 2011. AP

The Dallas Cowboys went on the clock in 2014, and owner Jerry Jones brought up Johnny Manziel’s name. In earlier years, Jones’ wish was their command.

But with the room behind Zack Martin, the Cowboys instead used the 16th choice on the Notre Dame offensive lineman. The Cleveland Browns drafted the Heisman Trophy-winning Texas A&M quarterback six choices later.

Three years later, Manziel’s off-field problems have washed him out of the league, while Martin has earned back-to-back All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.

“Well, I think [making the right choice] goes without saying based on how, unfortunately, Johnny Manziel has [fared],” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “His record speaks for itself. The player we got in that draft, Zack Martin, is obviously a big reason and a big part of the reason why we’re here today, with the offensive line certainly I think being the center of attention of this football team and the foundation of our team in terms of what we’re built around.

It’s tough for organizations to take three offensive linemen in three [of four] drafts in the first round. But give Jerry credit. He bit the bullet and did it, and it’s certainly paying dividends.

Stephen Jones on the Cowboys’ draft success

“It’s tough for organizations to take three offensive linemen in three [of four] drafts in the first round. But give Jerry credit. He bit the bullet and did it, and it’s certainly paying dividends and a big part of our success in terms of why we’re doing as well as we are this year.”

The Cowboys and Browns can each cite their recent draft history as the reason they are where they are. The Cowboys’ past seven drafts have delivered 13 current starters, 12 Pro Bowl berths, a rushing title and an offensive player of the year award.

The Browns, meanwhile, have had eight first-round choices the past seven drafts: Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Barkevious Mingo, Justin Gilbert, Manziel, Danny Shelton, Cameron Ervin and Corey Coleman. Only the last three still are on the team.

This year, they selected USC quarterback Cody Kessler in the third round, passing on Dak Prescott, who makes his eighth start this season for the Cowboys Sunday.

It’s not hard to figure which team enters this game 6-1 and which enters 0-8. Or why.

The Cowboys’ 53-man active roster includes 40 players acquired in the draft or as undrafted free agents. Nineteen of the team’s starters were home grown, 17 coming via the draft.

Of the 53 players on the Cowboys’ active roster, 40 arrived through the draft or as undrafted free agents. Nineteen of the team’s starters were home grown, 17 coming via the draft.

“More than ever, we truly are sticking with taking the best player on the board,” Stephen Jones said. “A lot of people preach it and talk it but then don’t do it. I do think we’ve been pretty true to the board and not taking a guy just because we have a need in a later round and we’ve got another guy who’s in a higher round just because we happen to need something.

“We’ve been at this for over 25 years now, and I think we know that the draft – and I think everybody preaches – is kind of your foundation of your franchise.”

Here are the 23 starters the Cowboys’ list and how they were acquired:

▪ WR Dez Bryant, 1st round 2010, 24th overall pick. He earned All-Pro honors in 2014.

▪ LT Tyron Smith, 1st round 2011, ninth overall pick. He has made three consecutive Pro Bowls.

▪ LG Ron Leary, undrafted free agent. He replaced La’el Collins, an undrafted free agent in 2015 who is currently on injured reserve.

▪ C Travis Frederick, 1st round 2013, 31st overall pick. He’s earned two straight Pro Bowl berths.

▪ RG Zack Martin, 1st round 2014, 16th overall pick. He’s earned two straight Pro Bowl berths.

▪ RT Doug Free, 4th round 2007, 122nd overall pick. He has made 105 career starts.

▪ TE Jason Witten, 3rd round 2003, 69th overall pick. He owns several team records, including consecutive starts (154) and career receptions (1,044).

▪ WR Terrance Williams, 3rd round 2013, 74th overall pick. He is in the final year of his contract.

▪ QB Dak Prescott, 4th round 2016, 135th overall pick. He has gone 6-1 as a starting quarterback in Tony Romo’s injury absence.

▪ RB Ezekiel Elliott, 1st round 2016, fourth overall pick. He leads the NFL in rushing with 799 yards.

▪ FB Keith Smith, UFA 2014. He converted from linebacker this season.

▪ DE Tyrone Crawford, 3rd round 2012, 81st overall pick. He moved from defensive tackle this season.

▪ DT Maliek Collins, 3rd round 2016, 67th overall pick. He has started the past four games.

▪ DT Terrell McClain, free agent, third-round pick of Carolina in 2011. He arrived in 2014.

▪ DE Jack Crawford, free agent, sixth-round pick of the Raiders in 2012. He arrived in 2014.

▪ SLB Damien Wilson, 4th round 2015, 127th overall pick. He has yet to start but has won the SAM spot in the team’s base defense.

▪ MLB Anthony Hitchens, 4th round 2014, 119th overall pick. He has started 27 games and played in 39 in three seasons.

▪ WLB Sean Lee, 2nd round 2010, 55th overall pick. He earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2015.

▪ CB Brandon Carr, free agent, fifth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2008. He signed a five-year, $50.1 million deal in 2012.

▪ CB Orlando Scandrick, 5th round 2008, 143rd overall pick. He was the team’s defensive player of the year in 2014.

▪ CB Morris Claiborne, 1st round 2012, sixth overall pick. He is having his best season, in a contract season, but out 4-6 weeks with a groin injury. 2016 sixth-round pick Anthony Brown replaces him.

▪ SS Barry Church, UFA 2010. He has made 58 career starts but is out 4-6 weeks with a broken forearm. J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick in 2013, replaces him.

▪ FS Bryon Jones, 1st round 2015, 27th overall pick. He has made 18 starts in his two seasons.

Star Telegram sports columnist Mac Engel and guest analyst Vivian answer three big Dallas Cowboys questions heading into their game in Cleveland (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean

Cowboys at Browns

Noon Sunday, KDFW/4

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