As the 2014 NFL draft approaches, Cowboys fans are hoping that Jerry Jones can finally fix whatever has launched them into a whirlpool of mediocrity. In order to do that, Jerry must take off his owner hat and commit to being the team's general manager.
Over the last few years, Jones and Jason Garrett have compiled a solid draft haul that has included franchise players such as Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and Travis Frederick. Despite the recent success the Cowboys are still 24-24 over the last three years.
If the Cowboys are to have any hope at a playoff berth in 2014, Jones will have to win big in the NFL draft.
Here’s my blueprint to accomplishing that:
Know Your Needs
This seems pretty basic but Jerry must assess and prioritize the team’s needs before he can take any action. His “big board” and decisions hinge on his ability to maintain a pulse on his team’s biggest weaknesses.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah lists the Cowboys top three needs as defensive tackle, defensive end and safety. While he’s absolutely right, I would suggest you could add quarterback, cornerback and offensive tackle to the list of team needs.
In 2013 the Cowboys ranked 30th in pass defense and cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne ranked 74th and 90th respectively in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). With only Orlando Scandrick having a positive coverage grade for the team, an upgrade to this unit is vital if the defense wants to improve on its abysmal 2013.
Additionally, as Tony Romo ages the Cowboys should start looking for someone to groom behind him who could eventually take over as the face of the franchise. Another, more immediate, pending issue is the expiring contract of Doug Free who the Cowboys will be looking to replace prior to the 2015 season.
Jones would be smart to account for every variable to ensure this team can maintain a consistent level of success over the future.
Wheel and Deal
In the last two drafts Jones has shown that he isn't afraid to move around. Last year, he brilliantly moved back with the 49ers and added an additional third-round draft pick that turned into Terrance Williams.
He’d be smart to keep that mindset this year.
If one of the few prospects the Cowboys would consider at their current position isn’t available, Jones should seek other options. With teams at the bottom of the first round having similar needs, the Cowboys could find a team willing to jump to grab their highly-desired prospect, giving Dallas some extra draft picks to enjoy.
Keep the phone lines open, Jerry.
Stick To Your Board
When the Cowboys selected Frederick in the first-round of the 2013 NFL draft, Cowboys fans were irate. Most teams had Frederick graded between the second- and sixth-rounds but the Cowboys had him as their 22nd overall player.
I’d say that worked out pretty well as Pro Football Focus graded Frederick as the seventh-best overall center last season.
What this shows us is that the Cowboys have a pretty good scouting department. It’s important that they create their board and stick to it. This comes into play when prospects start falling and teams begin to panic.
This isn’t the year for a splash. This is the year where Jones needs to make calculated decisions that effectively fill positions of needs with players who can contribute immediately. The last thing the Cowboys should do is grab a falling player who isn’t on their board.
Think of it like a game of chess. If you are always reacting to someone else’s moves, you’re always going to lose. Have a strategy, stick to it and put the rest of league in checkmate.
The best way to build a team is through the NFL draft. There are no high-priced negotiations or questions about aging players and how they’ll perform in a new environment. Essentially, you get untainted players who are relatively cheap and able to be molded to a team’s current system and philosophy.
The Cowboys have found themselves lingering in a purgatory of mediocrity while their fans are clamoring for a playoff win. A once proud, successful franchise is desperately seeking to achieve the NFL royalty status they once had. A good draft this year could go a long way to achieving that.
You can’t disappoint, Jerry.