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Jerry Jones Extends the Cowboys' Super Bowl Window by Crushing 2020 NFL Draft

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterApril 28, 2020

FRISCO, TEXAS - JANUARY 08: Team owner Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys talks with the media during a press conference at the Ford Center at The Star on January 08, 2020 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones conducted the 2020 NFL draft while relaxing on a sofa that would sleep six comfortably, from within a room decorated like a live-in iPhone, with young assistants brandishing his cellphone for him like an emperor's cupbearers, from aboard a 357-foot, $250 million yacht called the Bravo Eugenia, which we think might be Latin for "The Good Ship Quarantine." 

It was the stuff of a 1960s James Bond or 21st-century Incredibles villain: excessive, ostentatious and ridiculous. Jones flexed his Texan Tony Stark Zillionaire Genius muscles much too hard during a weekend when most NFL execs huddled with their children around laptops and Bill Belichick appeared to let his dog select a few players

Jerrah's Blofeld-meets-Dr. Evil draft shtick would be even more of a punchline had he not absolutely crushed the draft. From his mysterious seafaring lair, Jones not only solved nearly all of the Cowboys' predraft problems, but he made some of the team's strongest units even stronger.

If you didn't take the Cowboys seriously as Super Bowl contenders before the draft—and no one can blame you if you didn'tyou better take another look at their depth chart. Jones just set his team up to be in the Super Bowl conversation for years to come. 

He did it by following the golden rule of the NFL draft: select the best available players.

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Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb didn't fill an immediate need for the Cowboys. Newly extended No. 1 wideout Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are solid starters, and role players would be easy to come by in later rounds of a receiver-rich draft. But Lamb was a game-changing, difference-making, turn-a-shallow-cross-into-a-touchdown talent, and he was sitting on the board at a point (No. 17 overall) when other teams were dipping into the second tier at positions like offensive tackle and cornerback.

Cooper, Lamb and Gallup may be the best receiving corps in the NFC on paper. They also give new coach Mike McCarthy weapons nearly on par with the Donald Driver/Greg Jennings/Jordy Nelson combination he coached during his signature Packers seasons.

Receiver CeeDee Lamb may not have been a need for the Cowboys but promises to give quarterback Dak Prescott perhaps the best corps of pass-catchers in the NFC.
Receiver CeeDee Lamb may not have been a need for the Cowboys but promises to give quarterback Dak Prescott perhaps the best corps of pass-catchers in the NFC.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The Cowboys' most obvious roster need also took care of itself when Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs fell to them with the 51st pick. "He was in the 1 percent," Jones told reporters after the draft, an interesting turn of phrase when used by a man whose yacht has helipads. (Jones was referring to draft prediction models, which indicated that Diggs had only a 1 percent chance of falling that far).

Diggs' slide into the Cowboys' arms may have been a stroke of luck, but luck is the residue of design. In a deep draft, quality players at many positions (including positions of need) are likely to slide.

Jones prioritized sheer talent over team needs for much of the rest of draft weekend.

Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (No. 82 overall) will back up Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe at the start of his career. Like Lamb, he turns a solid unit into one with the potential to be among the league's best. Tulsa cornerback Reggie Robinson (No. 123 overall) adds speed behind Diggs and has the potential to develop into a starter. Edge-rusher Bradlee Anae (No. 179 overall) also has tremendous upside. Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz (No. 146 overall) addresses the immediate need to replace retired starter Travis Frederick, but he's a second-round value with some injury concerns whom the Cowboys scooped up in the fourth round. And James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci (No. 231 overall) is just the kind of candy bar you grab in the checkout line at the end of a successful shopping trip.

The new Cowboys draft class doesn't just make them deeper and better in 2020; it sets them up for years of both on-field success and (relative) fiscal responsibility. Lamb insulates them if the inconsistent Cooper backslides now that he has a long-term contract. Gallimore should wean them from the need for big-name veterans in the middle of the defense. Diggs, Robinson, Biadasz and Anae should provide quality play for discount prices at critical positions for several seasons. 

That influx of affordable talent will also give Jones the flexibility to handle Dak Prescott's contract any way he sees fit: string together franchise-tag seasons, crash a money truck through Prescott's living room window, or even play a little hardball with Prescott's agent. ("If you don't like this deal, some other quarterback might do just fine throwing to Lamb and Cooper from behind the Great Wall of Dallas.")

This draft class softens the blow of the team's free-agent defections and minimizes the consequences of overpaying Ezekiel Elliott last year. Quite simply, it gives the Cowboys a Super Bowl nucleus that they should be able to keep intact for a while.

So instead of roasting Captain Jerry and his Magnificent Mothership, we're here to praise him. That has happened before. We laughed when the Cowboys apparently ignored their own draft board to select Frederick. He turned out to be a player who might have reached the Hall of Fame if not for Guillain-Barre syndrome. We laughed when it took a daytime soap opera squabble to select Zack Martin over Johnny Manziel; the process was a little wonky, but no one can argue with the results. The Cowboys drew criticism from the usual circles for selecting Elliott fourth overall in 2016; they then added Prescott, Jaylon Smith and others in subsequent rounds.

Jones, with some help from his family and perhaps some royal phone bearers, has a history of laughing last about the draft. That's why the Cowboys, despite mismanagement in other areas, rarely fall very far off the playoff chase. 

Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore may need time to develop but also has the potential to make the Cowboys' defensive line one one of the deeper units in the NFL.
Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore may need time to develop but also has the potential to make the Cowboys' defensive line one one of the deeper units in the NFL.Ray Carlin/Associated Press

Jones credited his Bravo Eugenia herself for providing some draft-weekend clarity this weekend.

"I don't know why, but this situation just may bring out the best in me," he said. "Old Moby Dick out there to the right and all of those added nuances just clear your head."

Jones may want to skim the back cover of Moby Dick before making any more literary references. (Spoiler: Nearly everyone drowns.) But there's something to be said about drafting with a clear head. 

In the weeks leading up to the first (and, please, only) draft in the time of social distancing, we heard a lot about general managers tearing out walls to improve their Wi-Fi and lamenting that they would not be able to meet prospects in person and, um, smell them. Much of the consternation was certainly overblown (a general manager vents to a reporter for 30 seconds; we talk about it for six days), but even in the best of circumstances, some organizations suffer from analysis paralysis come draft weekend. The threat of a frozen computer could only make matters worse for some front office obsessed with minutiae.

Not Jones. He kicks back and drafts the kid who caught 32 touchdown passes in three seasons and other big, strong, fast, tough dudes. McCarthy can sweat the details.

It may not be the most scientific system, but it worked this time. Jones just charted a course toward the Super Bowl, and it looks like there will be some smooth sailing ahead.

    

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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