Although the Dallas Cowboys may have pulled off the biggest and best trade in NFL history (1989’s Herschel Walker trade a.k.a. The Great Train Robbery), they are a franchise known mainly for their bad decisions when it pertains to risk. And those bad decisions have led to a resurgence of caution around Valley Ranch. But taking risks can pay off big. The prime example being current wideout stud Dez Bryant. The past example being three Super Bowl wins being fueled by the Walker trade.
Yes, Dallas has been bitten in the back end a number of times by taking risks. The Roy Williams trade comes to mind. The Joey Galloway trade never quite paid off. But sometimes, not taking the risk is the mistake. The biggest of them all, of course, is Dallas failing to pull the trigger on future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss in the 1998 NFL Draft.
After calling Moss the greatest individual prospect they had ever seen, Dallas promptly skipped over him in the draft, because of his perceived character issues, and selected linebacker Greg Ellis out of North Carolina. It didn’t take long for the Cowboys to regret that decision as Moss finished his inaugural season with a rookie-record 17 touchdowns, a Pro Bowl selection and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
It appeared the Cowboys had learned a lesson from the Moss incident when they elected to trade up in the 2010 NFL Draft to select similarly troubled wide receiver Dez Bryant out of Oklahoma State. Three years later, Bryant is perceived to be the greatest wide receiver prospect in the league and on the edge of super-stardom. Again, when the risks pay off…they pay off big!
But Dallas has had a more conservative approach the past few seasons. The influence of head coach Jason Garrett has seemed to have had a calming effect on owner and general manager Jerry Jones. But having Jones sit on his hands is not always a good thing. He has taken the Cowboys to glory by taking risks. Jones has also sunk our franchise into deep despair because of them too. But that’s the risks of risks. I’m not sure that Dallas is any better served by not taking action.
Would the Cowboys have won three Super bowls without the Herschel Walker trade? What about the Charles Haley trade of 1992? The Deion Sanders signing in 1995? All risks that paid off big. What about drafting injured collegiate players like linebackers Sean Lee and Brice Carter? Both have recovered from their injuries to become big stars of our defense.
I would have loved to have seen Dallas take a risk or two in this year’s NFL Draft as well. And no, taking tight end Gavin Escobar in the second round wasn’t a risk. That was more about being too in love with the idea of tight end sets and basic draft mismanagement. No, a risk would have been selecting troubled cornerback/game-changer Tyrann Mathieu out of LSU. Or injured running back Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina. Neither player was even on the Cowboys’ Draft Board. Both were presumably left off it due to their “issues”.
Mathieu a.k.a. The Honey Badger faced many notable drug-related problems while at Louisiana. For the past year, he has been making the media rounds attempting to clear his name so he might be drafted into the NFL. Mathieu landed with the Arizona Cardinals in the third round, and it was probably the perfect place for him. But I would have loved to have seen Dallas take a risk on this young man. Mathieu is a dynamic play-maker who could have been a special teams beast. Although I think a third round selection was a little steep, not to have a player of his immense talents even on the draft board or scouted out was a mistake. If Mathieu had dropped further in the draft, Dallas should have at least considered him. Instead, they made the conservative move and took him off the board completely. They refused to take that risk, even in the seventh round.
In a similar but totally different situation (if that makes sense), Lattimore was the NFL’s top running back prospect until a gruesome knee injury ended his college career. Selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft, Lattimore will likely sit out the season to recover from the torn ACL, PCL, and MCL injuries that he suffered. But the upside for what Lattimore can become is huge. And current Denver Broncos’ running back Willis McGahee, who suffered a similar injury while in college ten years ago, has proven that a successful comeback is more than possible.
In the 2012 NFL Draft, the trouble prospect teams were clamoring over was cornerback Janoris Jenkins. A first round talent with off-the-field issues dropped into the second round where the St. Louis Rams selected him. Jenkins finished his rookie season by tying an NFL rookie record with three interceptions for touchdowns and was runner-up for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. More importantly, he outperformed Cowboys’ number one draft pick Morris Claiborne.
Here’s what I am saying in a nutshell: The Cowboys do not need to be afraid to take risks. You dance with the one who brought you, right? There is little doubt that the trophy case in Jerry Jones’ office at Valley Ranch would be slightly “less sparkly” if Dallas had been as conservative as they are right now. Yes, make smart decisions. But don’t eliminate options. Taking a risk can pay off big. If the Cowboys ever forget that, they can just look over at Dez Bryant as he’s jumping into the stands to make a spectacular one-handed catch…and be reminded.