It sure feels like the Cowboys made some "historically significant" decisions on draft weekend 2016. You know, the kind of decisions that we might be discussing in 5-10 years. They make decisions in every draft and every offseason, but some just feel more heavily important than others. And all three of the following decisions they made high in the 2016 draft feel very heavily weighted in the "what will we be debating in 2021 in spaces like this?"
1. Taking a RB at #4 overall with a top defender available to address their biggest weakness.
2. Having a trade for their "QB of the future" Paxton Lynch available, but deciding against paying what they determined to be a bit too much (a 2nd and 3rd) to get their guy. Ironically, in the 2014 draft, they approved and paid that same price for DE DeMarcus Lawrence.
3. Taking a player at #34 overall in Jaylon Smith who they understand is likely to miss 2016 completely and has no assurances of a full recovery at any point of his career. Also, they selected Smith when Myles Jack was also available at the same point with his own medical issues.
I was both shocked and delighted when I found out the Cowboys were selecting Jaylon Smith from Notre Dame with their 2nd round pick 10 days ago. To suggest it hit everyone (including me for sure) out of left field suggests that the Cowboys did not tip their hands at all and were hoping to escort Smith down the board as far as possible as long as they were sure they were able to secure the Notre Dame LB who suffered a gruesome knee injury on New Year's Day.
The front office doesn't always keep top-level secrets like this one, because over the years, they usually leave a few bread crumbs along the way that indicate their plans. On this occasion with the team doctor being Dr. Dan Cooper, who also handled the surgery of Smith, the Cowboys certainly had the best insight possible both on the recovery and the wherewithal to hide their intentions brilliantly. As the story goes, they had their first two ideas snagged at #32 and #33 in Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd, and therefore plans to wait on Smith were derailed and that was when they made the decision to go get their next highest player - Smith.
As I have indicated earlier, I love the selection. Or, at least, I love the player. I have no insight in his medical situation, other than the assurance that the Cowboys are comfortable making an educated guess about his full recovery.
Like Jack, you would have to ask how much value you place on a mike/will LB who will not be a regular pass rusher. But, unlike Jack, you have to do it with Jaylon Smith with a more significant knee situation and one that will require slow and steady progress for the first offseason where most teams want a flawless specimen who is ready to run right onto the practice field immediately.
Jaylon Smith is the type of player who many think is between the fifth and 10th best player in the draft. He is so good that it is believed that despite the gruesome injury and the delay in his comeback, he will still go before pick No. 20 to some team that can't pass up his ability. If, somehow, he were to be available when the Cowboys come to the podium at the start of Round 2, this would be the type of player that would have them sprinting to turn in their card. He seems like a "can't miss" talent who will likely slide right to a team that is already pretty good and he will push them over the top. It may not be in 2016, but Jaylon Smith will be a star very soon.
Loved the pick, cringe at the risk. But, one team that has shown us over the years that they have the stomach for the risk is the Dallas Cowboys. They treat risks like opportunities, as other "more conservative" teams around them allow top talent to fall into their arms. Does it always work? No. But, like a moth to a light, the Cowboys brain trust enjoys the attraction of feeling like they are paying less to deal with an imperfection here or there.
The other interesting topic with regards to this discussion is the decision to take Jaylon Smith over Myles Jack. If you are "going for it now" inside the Romo window, would you rather take Jack? Jack appears to have a great health risk as well, but it is more of the "shortened career" variety where he may not last 5 years in the NFL. That said, he is expected to play right away and after that it is anyone's guess.
Over the weekend, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (one of my favorite writers for decades) addressed the Green Bay Packers' decision to pass on Jack at #27 and has written about the health situations with both players. I thought the insight shed light on the Cowboys decision-making process and only adds to the historical record of what they had to consider.
a top executive in personnel for a team with one of the final 11 selections in the first rounds expressed the view that was commonplace throughout the league.
"We didn't get the OK to take him," the executive said this week. "Too big a risk. How do you waste a first-round pick? We didn't have enough picks to be throwing them around. Even if he can play, it's not going to be for long."
Under the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, only players taken in the first round have base salaries guaranteed for the first three years.
A vocal segment of fans have emailed insisting Thompson should have gambled on Jack at No. 27. Now they'll use (Scout) Seale's words for more attacks.
Just remember that as an area scout Seale wasn't privy to Jack's voluminous medical file. Also, he isn't responsible for spending millions of dollars on a first-round pick just as he wouldn't be held accountable for his opinions within an organization that demands he be opinionated.
During (Former GM Ron) Wolf's tenure, players received a medical grade of 1, 2, 3 or 4. A 4 meant do not take.
When McKenzie and the rest of the medical/training staff would return from the combine medical recheck in Indianapolis a few weeks before the draft, everything would be cut and dried under Wolf.
"It was who failed, who didn't fail and go from there," said Wolf, adding that any players with a 4 were off his board. It was the 3-graded players that led to heavy discussion. "You establish with the doctor your criteria," Wolf said. "Now you interview the doctor. The doctor tells you what he thinks. The doctor doesn't make the decision. You make the decision."
Let's assume (Ted) Thompson still uses Wolf's grading, and Jack was a 3. Wolf said he never drafted a 4. When Wolf took 3s, he said those players usually didn't work out.
"I tried a couple times to take guys to hit a home run, and they failed," said Wolf. "They both had injuries, and stayed injured. You learn lessons that way, you know?"
My best guess, based on discussing Jack with half a dozen teams, is that his career will be short-lived, at least as an elite performer.
Fans are blind to the X-rays and scans, forget about the money at stake and the pressure to reinforce a vulnerable defense with reliable parts.
They want Jack today, a Super Bowl tomorrow and happy ever after. Too bad it's never quite that easy. Play the odds, just the way Ted Thompson did.
Smith, one of the half dozen best players in the draft, has experienced the condition commonly known as "drop foot" after blowing out his left knee Jan. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl. The anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament were torn, and at the same time there was damage to the peroneal nerve. The tendons of the three peroneal muscles are vital to the stability of the ankle and foot.
Some players have returned from "drop foot." Others haven't.
Physicians from across the league were in Indianapolis April 15-16 to reexamine draft-eligible players. "Not good," said a high-placed official for an NFL team after receiving a report from the team doctor. "Best-case scenario is he plays in '17. It could be never.
"My guy said it hadn't changed. The question is, can it regenerate? They don't usually come back from this."
Another key executive in the decision-making process for a team was even more pessimistic following consultations with his medical staff. "He is (on our board), but he's close to a no-take just because he's not going to play this year and next year (2017) is about a 30% chance," he said. "He's in trouble.
"What are you going to do? You take him and pay him this year, and you've got to pay the medical and all that, and you could be stuck with him. I hope he gets it back but he's 0% in terms of nerve activation right now. It's a sad deal."
A personnel director for another team drew a different conclusion after discussing Smith with its team doctor.
"I think it's overblown a little bit," the executive said. "Yeah, he's probably going to miss the season, but that was a pretty severe injury in January, for goodness sakes.
"Like a lot of those things, Peyton Manning's shoulder, it's just going to take some time for it to come back. We think he'll be fine."
An AFC executive predicted Smith would be drafted before the second round was over. An NFC personnel director guessed late second round or early third.
"If some team doctor says this nerve is coming back and he's going to be 100%, they're going to get a hell of a player," another NFC executive said. "There's also probably a better chance that he'll never play.
"Smith might have been the first pick in the draft. I'm not so sure he's still not the best player in the draft. If healthy."
So, again, with each linebacker the views were mixed. But, the Cowboys decided that Smith was a "go" and Jack was a "no."
One last part of McGinn's fine work asks his network of scouts and general managers to rank the players at each position by quality:
In the Journal Sentinel polls at linebacker, nine scouts for 3-4 teams and eight for 4-3 teams (one didn't vote at middle linebacker) were asked scheme-specific questions on the five best outside and inside players to fit their defenses.
Middle linebacker in a 4-3: Ragland (three first place votes), 30; Jack, 15 (three); B.J. Goodson, 12; Joe Schobert, Smith (one) and Perry, nine; Blake Martinez, six; Nick Vigil, five; Scooby Wright and Morrison, four, and Matakevich, two.
Outside linebacker in a 4-3: Jaylon Smith, 28 (four); Jack (three) and Lee, 23, (one); Floyd, 18; Correa, 11; Jones, nine; Dadi Nicolas, three; Fackrell and Perry, two, and Travis Feeney, one.
It is a fascinating discussion to look at things from a purely projection standpoint of Myles Jack vs Jaylon Smith. Obviously, when we return to these stories in four seasons, we will know so much more information, but on the clock at pick #34, the Cowboys had nothing like that to work with. They had to trust their work, trust their doctor's view, and hope that they didn't make a big mistake. It helps (or hurts) to have a general manager who is secure in his position to make decisions like these, but make no mistake -- there is a lot riding on this decision being right.
What keeps this from possibly never being a clear move is that this position is already a high-impact, high-collision position, meaning that fresh wear and tear on both players' bodies will take a certain toll the moment they play in actual NFL games. Conversations like these are what make the NFL draft so difficult.
Do you love the player? For sure. Do you love the risk?
This is where the NFL draft becomes such a complicated study. One person says he might be the best player in the draft, while another says he may never play again.