Cowboys Conversation: Defending Dallas’s Personnel Decisions

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Oct 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick (72) guard Ronald Leary (65) and offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77) look to block during the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles 17-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Don and Meredith are longtime friends and lifelong Dallas Cowboys fans whose bond was solidified when swapping stories about growing up in the hostile territory of New Jersey and facing the same while living in New York City the past ten years. More than anything, they love debating everything Dallas Cowboys with each other. Their posts here at the Landry Hat are a running conversation about America’s Team.

Meredith: I don’t know if you saw the column on the Cowboys by Grantland’s Robert Mays from Friday — I almost didn’t share it with you because I didn’t want to ruin your weekend — but now I want to know what you think.

Don: I’m a big Grantland fan — I respect outlets that produce thoughtful content and I know you LOVE Bill Simmons — but this entire piece is based on a variety of false premises, phony assumptions, bad parallel constructions and a lack of attention to the facts surrounding recent years.

Meredith: The basic conclusion is that the Cowboys have put a great deal of energy into beefing up their offensive line and have seen phenomenal improvement, but to the detriment of the other aspects of their game — mainly their defense — and they did little to help it this year so they are probably still gonna stink.

Don: Let’s break this down carefully. First, Mays accepts Jerry’s claim here as fact

"“If you’re going to have a guy … that can handle a porous offensive line, it’s Tony [Romo],” Jones said. “Tony has some of the best percentages operating behind pressure situation of anyone in the NFL. If there were a place theoretically that you had to have a weakness with Tony Romo at quarterback, that might be a place to have it. You just can’t have it all.”"

Ok, it’s common knowledge that Romo the whirling dervish can buy time and makes plays when things breakdown up front. Yes, he can…sometimes. The reality is that overall Romo is not great when under pressure. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as one of the worst in the league that year (-36.8).

Meredith: Timeout, timeout, timeout. Before you get too far into this, do you think Jerry really meant it when he said that? Because I don’t. Mays says,

"“….some time between that press conference and now, that changed. Maybe it was the new $100 million deal for Romo, handed out a month after Jones’s comments, or the idea that they could keep oft-injured DeMarco Murray on the field with more help. Whatever it was, after going 30 years without a first-round offensive lineman, Dallas has taken three in the past four drafts.”"

A couple of things: A) It’s a ridiculous comment even for Jerry. No one wants to endorse a strategy that leaves their most important asset in a vulnerable position. B) Isn’t it much more plausible that Jerry was just trying to emphasize his support for and confidence in his quarterback while they were negotiating his new contract and did it in a somewhat awkward manner? It wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened.

Don: That’s exactly my point — he starts off by allowing a demonstrably false premise to stand. Mays then moves on to praise the Travis Frederick pick last season while simultaneously taking them to task for making the pick too early:

"“The problem was that they probably could have gotten him a round later”"

The easiest thing in the world is to take a draft, and re-order where the selections should have been made years later. Maybe they could have gotten Fred-Beard later. But, maybe not. There is no way to definitively know. It’s a sophomoric, and cheap way to criticize a pick. The draft is such a crap shoot — if you draft a full season starter who makes the All Rookie Team and looks like a future pro-bowler and 10 year starter, it’s impossible to honestly criticize the pick. Impossible.

Meredith: As my boy Yoda once said, “The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is.”

Don: You are a nerd, but Yoda was right. Mays basically blesses the Frederick pick — presumably because of how it turned out, which would have been impossible to fully know at the time, and thus his entire critique is really based on this year’s draft:

"“For the first time in a while, Dallas went into this past draft without the line being a top priority. Where the Cowboys needed help was on defense. When it came time for someone to get the ax for 2012’s mediocre finish, it was defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. As Ryan orchestrated the Saints’ defensive turnaround last year, the Cowboys’ defense turned into one of the league’s three worst. Whether it was a safety, a defensive lineman, anything, new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli needed some help. He didn’t get it.”"

and continues:

"“The Cowboys have bypassed the chance to find balance across their roster in favor of heavy investment in one area.”"

Mays makes this seemingly simple and authoritative point, but does not backup it up by citing which defensive player they should drafted in round one aka who they bypassed, which is what his entire argument hangs on. Exactly what defender should they have drafted at pick #16? The elite ones were all off the board. Trade downs weren’t happening. So the choice, according the Mays’s logic, was to draft a defensive player not worthy of the 16th pick in order to pursue “balance.” The right move was take take the best player — Zack Martin — and give us a chance to be elite in one facet of the game.