It appears after 24 years as a general manager in the National Football League, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has finally grasped the enormous, far-reaching organizational value of a draft pick.
In a Tuesday radio interview on 105.3 The Fan, Jones was asked how the team was going to cope with what can only be described as a voracious injury bug that has devoured four of the top five players on his defensive line.
His response was free agency; the Cowboys “don’t want to give up a high draft pick to get a defensive lineman right now.”
It’s a hard lesson to stick for a man who digs the lime light as much as Jerry. Draft picks take time, patience and skill to develop; trading draft picks for high-profile veterans is splashy and pays off with instant headlines.
But perennial NFL contenders are built by drafting and developing quality players, not by trading draft picks. With the salary cap spreading the wealth, teams have to grow their own talent and strike while a good number of their contributors are still on their rookie contracts.
That lesson should have been clear after Jones’ first five years in the league, when a Jimmy Johnson-led war room traded talent for draft picks and packed a roster so deep the Cowboys became just the fifth franchise in the league to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
But the lesson didn’t stick. Maybe it was the rush he got making those Nike commercials after signing high-profile free agent Deion Sanders; maybe it was the Lombardi Trophy he won that same season. But whatever one splashy signing may have contributed to that Superbowl run, the 1995 ring has Jimmy’s draft fingerprints all over it.
The NFL introduced the salary cap in 1994; shortly thereafter Jones began using multiple premium draft assets to target single impact players. That year he traded a first- and a second-rounder to San Francisco for the privilege of moving up five spots and drafting the next Charles Haley, but instead ended up with Shante Carver. In 1997 he traded a first and two other picks to the Eagles to move up three spots and draft the next Jay Novacek, but all he got was David LaFleur.
The madness peaked in 2000, when Jerry traded out of the draft, sending two first-round picks to Seattle for Joey Galloway; he later added a high third-rounder to the same team for James McKnight. In 2001 he traded two third-rounders to draft Aikman’s heir, Quincy Carter.