Gil LeBreton

Cowboys’ best draft strategy is to stay on course, keep Jerry away

Of all the makeovers and quarterback do-overs at Dallas Cowboys, Inc., none quite raises the brow more than the depiction of Owner Jones as some modern-day drafting genius.

You know – Zeke Elliott, Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith and all that.

But let’s not fool ourselves. How many times last year did son Stephen have to stun-gun his old man to keep him away from the draft phone?

Jerry wanted to pick the wayward Johnny Manziel three years ago. And we’re only one year removed from Jones wasting a second round pick on linebacker Jaylon Smith, who still can’t run normally and maybe never will.

The Cowboys won anyway last season, and now they again appear to be poised at the threshold of prominence. They will, however, again need a draft infusion.

Notable defensive contributors took the free agent money and ran last month. Replenishment is essential. The Cowboys need to draft contributors, not long-term projects with a limp.

Owner Jones himself admitted as much two weeks ago, when he told colleague Clarence Hill that drafting a “redshirt” player “gets problematic a little bit.”

As Jerry put it, “Doing a Jaylon this year when we are probably going to get a chance to get a player that’s got a chance to play ... we’ve got to play young.”

The team’s draft needs are easily defined – cornerback, safety, pass rushing defensive lineman, followed by more of the same.

Free agent cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox and defensive lineman Terrell McClain all signed to play elsewhere.

By playing young, though, Jerry likely also means playing cheap. The Cowboys still have Tony Romo’s deferred bonus money on the books for two seasons. Minimum wage rookies, therefore, are just what the salary cap ordered.

Oh, you’ll hear Jerry and son Stephen say that they expected to be losing the four free agents in the secondary. It’s an old Jones defense mechanism to rebut a legitimate second-guess with, “Don’t you think we knew that?”

Maybe so, but Cowboys left by the dozen this off-season. I have to think Jones wanted to retain some of them.

Or maybe he’ll say he’s hoping to pull an Atlanta. The Falcons plugged four rookies into their defense last season and flew all the way to Super Bowl 51.

Way back on New Year’s Day, some wise fool predicted on these very pages that the Cowboys would draft defensive end Taco Charlton of Michigan in the first round. I’ll stick with that. I’d take Charlton over Charles Harris, the disappearing act from Missouri.

But there’s the problem. Thanks to free agency, whether they expected the mass defections or not, the Cowboys are leaking at the seams on defense. There’s no bluffing the media this time. If they don’t pick cornerbacks and “war daddy” pass rushers in the first three rounds, the Cowboys are back to their old ways.

A tight end, as early as the second round? Really? This is not the draft to be thinking about replacing Jason Witten.

With Stephen Jones and personnel man Will McClay influencing the selections, the Cowboys have deployed an effective recent strategy of drafting proficient, winning players from Power Five conference schools.

We all saw the fruits of that strategy last season. There’s no need to change that.

Would somebody please tell the owner?

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