IRVING – The narrative that will not die: Jerry Jones runs the Dallas Cowboys personnel department in a way that reflects his fondness for shiny toys and his background as an oil-and-gas wildcatter. In reflecting on a trio of Dallas’ most notable selections in this weekend’s NFL Draft, the narrative will not die…because there is some truth in it.
Ezekiel Elliott in the first round, Jaylon Smith in the second round and then, all the way down to the sixth round, Rico Gathers, are all Cowboys for an assortment of different reasons. And those reasons go well beyond the fact that each of them is a heck of a story. But there is a Jerry-related thread that runs through all three tales.
Elliott plays running back. He was the No. 1 guy on Dallas’ board, justification enough to select the Ohio State stud at the fourth-overall spot. But what about the devaluation of the running back? Jerry — who was the tie breaking vote inside Valley Ranch after Jason Garrett and Will McClay put Elliott atop the pile alongside Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey — has the job security to stick to the board, even in the face of NFL trends.
Smith plays linebacker…but maybe not for quite sometime. The Notre Dame prospect, if healthy, might’ve been ranked right up there with Zeke had he not torn up a knee in the Irish’s final game. The result of that injury is essentially a dead nerve in the knee. The feeling is supposed to come back, eventually. Smith is supposed to be a star, eventually.
I knew Dallas was interested here and I mocked him to the Cowboys — but in the low-risk sixth round. Instead, the Cowboys used a second-round pick on him armed with the knowledge that a) the Patriots were prepared to grab him and b) the man who performed Smith’s surgery is Dr. Dan Cooper, who happens to also be a Cowboys team doctor.
So Jerry’s “connections’’ came into play. His team’s judgment matching Bill Belichick’s team’s judgment should be included in the conversation. And which two “GMs’’ have the job security to “wildcat’’ their way to a guy who almost certainly won’t play football in 2016?
Jones and Belichick.
Gathers plays tight end. Kinda. He’s actually a power forward on the Baylor basketball team who has decided to commit himself to football, a game he hasn’t played since his early-teenage years. Gathers is 6-8 and 275 pounds and the risk here is zero while the rewards here are great.
“Wildcatting’’? In a sense, except when Jerry used to drill those oil holes, there was true risk. What is Dallas actually risking here? Oh, we might get to Oxnard for training camp where Elliott begins a career by excelling from the start, and Smith is on the sidelines beginning a year of rehab, and where Gathers slowly climbs to his feet after having been cut in half by Sean Lee or rag-dolled by Tyrone Crawford or yelled at by soon-to-be mentor Jason Witten and wonder why he ever left the safety of the court for the dangers of the football field.
But for now, amid visions of another Antonio Gates?
“I accept!’’ as Gathers said to Jerry when the owner called to congratulate him on being selected. Who can draft basketball players to be football players? Draft devalued running backs in valued positions and injured linebackers four rounds ahead of where most other teams might’ve done so?
A Jerry Jones (not just because of his style but more because of his job security) backed by the work and support of McClay and Garrett and their staffs, can.