Mac Engel

Cowboys’ perplexing draft shows commitment to Jason Garrett

Jason Garrett on Rico Gathers

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett feels Baylor hoops star Rico Gathers can develop into NFL tight end. Video by Drew Davison.
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Cowboys coach Jason Garrett feels Baylor hoops star Rico Gathers can develop into NFL tight end. Video by Drew Davison.

Whenever you hear someone protest that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is too “hands on,” just remember that he can be tremendously influenced by football people who speak with confidence. Men like Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells and now Jason Garrett.

The first two won multiple Super Bowls. The latter won a wild-card playoff game against the Detroit Lions.

Despite a record that indicates he should be worried about his employment, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has the type of job security normally reserved for guys named Belichick and Tomlin.

The first-round selection of Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is a Coach Process pick. The selection of shredded-knee linebacker Jaylon Smith with the second-round choice has Jerry written all over it.

(video by Clarence Hill Jr.)

Most of the NFL’s major off-season player personnel movement concluded Saturday with the completion of the draft. Save for a couple of minor acquisitions, the Cowboys will go into the 2016 season with what they have because they believe in a process that has yielded one playoff win since 2010.

Of the thousands of football decisions that Jerry has made since he bought the Cowboys, none have required the depth of commitment like his football marriage to Jason Garrett. Jerry is older, but the “old Jerry” would never have tolerated this.

Welcome ... Let’s see what happens

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant’s Twitter reaction to the selection of Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 4 pick

Only in the land of the Dallas Cowboys does this draft class make any sense. By now, we are used to this logic.

The age and health of Tony Romo put the Cowboys in “win-now” mode, which easily justifies the selection of Elliott. The team does not have much of a pass rush, or a defense, which makes the second-round selection of Smith so frustrating, utterly bewildering and totally Cowboys.

The Cowboys need a pass rusher and a defensive front-seven playmaker. Jaylon Smith is regarded as a top-five talent, but his damaged left knee makes his long-term status uncertain. Of course the Cowboys picked him.

The Cowboys are relying on the personal knowledge of team physician Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s damaged left knee, which was injured in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Cooper reportedly said the knee will heal and Smith should be fine.

As a side note, Cooper performed a basic surgery on my right shoulder in 2007. With rehab, I was supposed to be fine in three months. It took closer to a year, and I have not had a problem with it since (knock on wood).

With all due respect to Dr. Cooper, or any doctor, recovery timelines are an approximation of an educated guess. No one knows. We all heal, recover and progress at varying levels.

Defensive backs Byron Jones and Morris Claiborne are the two Cowboys defenders that the team used their first-round picks to draft. Linebacker Rolando McClain was a first-round pick of the Raiders in 2010.

There is a real possibility that after having suffered a torn ACL and LCL in the same knee that Smith may never be the same player again. Modern medicine can be amazing, but it’s not God.

The Cowboys are banking on Cooper being right, but with that type of injury Smith could be a sports tragedy; another What Might Have Been.

The Cowboys found a developmental QB in the draft, using a fourth-round pick on Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. Video by Drew Davison.

The earliest we should expect Smith to be fine is 2017, which means his rookie season is one year away. So the earliest we should expect Jaylon Smith to make a big impact on the Cowboys is closer to 2018.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys are moving forward with a plan for 2016 that can only work if the quarterback is upright, and the team scores first.

Best-case scenario for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys is that they repeat the formula that worked so well for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Not even Jerry “Tony Robbins” Jones thought the ’14 Cowboys were going to be much but they finished 12-4 because they beautifully executed Garrett’s vision of an offense.

With the healthy return of Romo and receiver Dez Bryant, the addition of Elliott gives the Cowboys the DeMarco Murray-style running back that should complete as good as any “triplets” in the NFL. Running back is normally the one position in which a rookie can flourish in the NFL.

And if the Cowboys score first, or just get a lead, their defense can benefit from opponents taking risks and putting the ball in vulnerable positions to be intercepted. That’s why an average defensive roster succeeded in 2014.

We have seen it work, but it has a ceiling and it needs one or two players on defense to be special.

It’s similar plan to what the Indianapolis Colts used in the Peyton Manning era — the bulk of the resources went to the offense and the defense held on.

Since Jason Garrett took over as full-time head coach after the 2010 season, the Cowboys have spent four of their six first-round draft picks on offensive players.

Asking this Cowboys’ defense to hold on, however, will be the tallest of tall tasks. With the four-game suspensions to Randy Gregory and Tank Lawrence, the team is left with zero pass rushers. Even when they return, the only proven one is Lawrence.

And as we have seen in recent years, the NFL’s best teams pressure passers. This team simply does not have the manpower to do it.

The additions of defensive linemen draftees — Maliek Collins and Charles Tapper — can’t be expected to yield anything consistent this season.

What you see is what the Cowboys have, which should be one of the best offenses in the NFL and a defense that will require a prayer before each snap.

If it all goes according to The Process, then Garrett should have a decent team capable of winning another wild-card playoff game, which these days puts him in the same company with the guys who won Super Bowls.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Rod Marinelli is high on Jaylon Smith even though the Notre Dame linebacker may not be able to play in 2016. Video by Drew Davison.

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