I know, I know. The Mailbag is supposed to be answering mail. And, it will be in Part 2. I promise. And that comes out in just a little bit. But, Part 1 - the first 1,000 words or so - is going to be all about getting on to paper my vision for picking #4. It is one thing to say parts of this on Twitter at different times over the course of 100 days from the end of the season until the Cowboys are on the clock, but now, I think I should spend some of my Friday morning making sure this is all on paper in long-form.
We shall call it, basically, the answer to the following question:
Q: "Bob, what do you think is the smartest thing to do with the 4th Pick in the draft?"
There are some vital things to understand as we go here. They must remain top of mind. Let's start here: Picking #4 is incredibly rare.
We should review with some historical context. The Cowboys have not picked with their own earned selection this high in the draft since 1989. That's right, during the generation where you think the Cowboys have been as disappointing as they have at any point of their existence, they have never been bad enough to get up into the tip-top of the draft. Given the welfare program that the NFL has this time of year to help the "football needy", this is worth noting. The Cowboys have had some very rough times, but since they selected Troy Aikman they have never been this bad. The Russell Maryland #1 pick in 1991 was from New England, by the way. The Dave Campo years gave the Cowboys the 7th, 8th, and 5th picks. The first one went to Seattle to pay for Joey Galloway, the 8th was Roy Williams. The 5th became Terance Newman. They also traded up to #6 to get Morris Claiborne in 2012, but I know everyone is trying to forget about that. So, while you have seen plenty of bad seasons in the last 20 years, you haven't been "Top of the draft bad", and this one time is that one time.
However you digest that last paragraph, the point is this: You haven't had this pile of capital in the draft in a long, long time. So, let's focus on not blowing it.
And that requires us to move on to the next objective which is not always in play: This pick is so good that you cannot afford to select a player for need.
That will simply mean this - Do not tell me about how the roster looks in March 2016 to do your picking. Rosters change quickly and we have no idea its coming. The team will say everything is fine over here and then unexpectedly, one guy gets suspended and another guy gets banned internally from ever setting foot in the facility again. Injuries hit out of nowhere. The point is, your roster condition is like the Texas Weather: you don't like it? Wait a few hours. It is constantly evolving. To be so small minded that the only reason you want Joey Bosa is because it is 6 months before the start of the season and you have no idea who your opening day left defensive end is, would be an incredibly poor way to blow your best pick in decades. You need a left DE? Sign Jeremy Mincey or Jack Crawford for $2 million to plug the hole and save your amazing pick for something amazing - for all the right reasons. Then, circle back and add a DE later if all you are trying to do is make sure you aren't starting a fern at defensive end.
You don't get a shot at generational talent very often. You must ask yourself when making this pick the following question: Do I think that this player can be the face of my franchise and the cover of my yearbook in 2023? That is 8 seasons away. If you do this correctly, in 8 seasons Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Byron Jones, and possibly an aging Dez Bryant are still a part of this thing. Other than that, I need to use this pick on adding to that group. This is the "Big Picture" approach.
You may notice that the "big picture" approach is the exact opposite of the "what can help me right now" approach. This is what I get the most grief about from the fans and I am telling you, you cannot think about September 2016 with this type of currency. Out of the Top 10? This conversation changes. But, in the Top 5? You simply owe it to your franchise and its longevity to take the talent that is most likely to be a great player for you in 8 years, not 8 months.
This is why when I am constantly asked about Ezekiel Elliott and Myles Jack, I generally offer a less-than-excited response. It isn't that those aren't talented players. They are wonderful players that I think will be great talents between now and 2020. But, those 2 positions in particular have a mountain of evidence that indicates the life-span is short. They may be elite players for a bit, but unfortunately, for every RB that lasts 2 full contracts with his team (8-10 years) there are about 100 that don't. And for me, high-tackle inside linebackers are essentially the RB of the defense, in that they are generally involved in many high-speed collisions where they are taking the punishment directly. Again, some last. But, most get wore down as they head towards 30 years old. I just think at #4, you must consider the life-span of an asset. Is it reasonable to assume that a player at either of these positional spots in today's NFL can both play at an elite level and play with health and longevity like a Quarterback, Left tackle, pass rusher, or even a cornerback? Evidence tells us "no".
So, if you take Elliott or Jack, you are getting a fine player at a risky position. I assume most people don't need a further explanation on this, but let's look at RB vs QB briefly:
In 2004 (12 drafts ago), the league saw 3 franchise QBs selected within the first 2 hours. The Giants left with Eli Manning, the Chargers left with Philip Rivers, and the Steelers snagged Ben Roethlisberger within the first 11 picks. As we sit here 143 months later, those 3 teams still employ those three assets. One other player from that top group remains with his franchise, WR Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona.
Now, let's fast-forward to the 2008 draft. This is merely 8 years back. Again, teams addressed franchise QB with Atlanta selecting Matt Ryan and Baltimore found Joe Flacco. As you know, both teams will have both of those QBs for probably several more seasons.
But, in that 2008 1st round - 8 seasons back - 5 teams decided to go with a RB. Oakland selected Darren McFadden and he played in Oakland for 7 seasons. Carolina grabbed Jonathan Stewart and he remains there today (still just 28 years old). Dallas snagged Felix Jones and let him go after his first and only contract. Pittsburgh drafted Rashard Mendenhall (who they allowed to leave in 2012) and he retired at 26. And Tennessee drafted the fantastic Chris Johnson and then released him after 2013.
Am I cherry-picking the data? Sure. But, the point is that we don't think it is weird that Big Ben, Eli, and Phil are still with their original teams 12 years later. But, we do raise an eyebrow that the Panthers have received 8 years from Stewart at RB. That is called "positional longevity". Some spots you expect 3 contracts. Some you are surprised if they finish their 2nd deal.
So, let's circle back and tie this up in a bow. I am not selecting at #4 for need. I am not selecting at #4 for a short-term position. But, I am selecting at #4 for the type of guy who can perhaps affect the direction of my franchise for the next generation of talent.
That is why I keep coming back to finding my Quarterback. If the data tells us that almost all starting QBs - especially those in the "elite" conversations - are found in the 1st round, and if it then tells us that most of them are found high in the first round, then priority #1 must be to get the guy who by reasonable projections could be my QB in 2028 and it would not seem odd by Roethlisberger/Eli/Rivers comparable spans. Why does it matter if he plays in 2016? Or even 2017? If the best place to get your next guy is high in the draft, and if picking high in the draft is extremely rare around here, why would anyone resist this fit in a year where the Cowboys may actually have a chance to take the top QB talent in the entire draft? And at a time where Tony Romo does not seem like a cinch to play 16 games in a season ever again?
But, Bob, what if that guy isn't in this draft? You are right. I might like Jared Goff more than the professional scouts. I think he will be great in the pros (especially when he is 25 years old - in October of 2019!), but I have been wrong before (many times). So, then I go down my list and look for the best talent that has the best chance of joining Tyron, Zack, Byron, and maybe old Dez in 2023.
Personally, I think that would make my list at #4 this: Jared Goff, then Jalen Ramsey (a generational defensive back that has a chance to make the impact of Charles Woodson who just retired after 18 amazing seasons), then Joey Bosa. Just to clarify, Bosa plays a position that ages extremely well and he is amazingly young. If he is the athlete he seems to be, there is no reason he isn't going strong when he turns 30 (in July of 2025!) There is about a 99% chance that I can have one of those 3 at pick #4. If all of those are gone, now, you can talk to me about trading backwards, Carson Wentz, or if none of those options are happening, then let's talk about Zeke.
I am not worried about who is on this roster right now. Laremy Tunsil is the wildcard here because he appears to be a bit of a Tyron clone, and perhaps it is hypocritical to say that left tackle is blocked, but he might be the one guy I would pass on because of where my franchise is currently at.
Otherwise, that is my take on your considerations and decision making at #4.
This is just too good of a pick with too many good talents to make a poor, short-sighted decision.