There are football decisions, and there are football decisions. And in the realm of football decisions, the Dallas Cowboys' decision to trade down from their original 18th overall draft pick and move down the 31st pick formerly owned by the San Francisco 49ers is being questioned by just about everybody. Not so much because they traded down, but because of the player they took when they did so -- Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, a player many analysts had with a second- to third-round grade. Some would argue that Frederick wasn't even the best center on the board; Cal's Brian Schwenke and Alabama's Barrett Jones would also get votes. But the primary issue was that the Cowboys, a team that has drafted pretty horribly over the last few seasons, seem to have done it again in the wrong direction.
Brandon Jones of the Dallas Morning News recalled an exchange between Assistant Director of Player Personnel Tom Ciskowski and Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President, and Director of Player Personnel Stephen Jones during the team's live feed of the "war room" during the first round.
[Head coach Jason] Garrett, at one point, had a blank look across his face as he started rubbing his forehead with his hand. Ciskowski and Stephen Jones also had an animated exchange. It was a rare show of emotion by Ciskowski.
There's good reason for the Cowboys' actual football people to be incensed by the pick. Jones, whose only real football qualification appear to be his status as owner Jerry Jones' son, later told the media that the team had LSU safety Eric Reid in the mix as the second-rated safety on their board behind Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, who the New Orleans Saints took with the 15th pick, but thought there was more value in trading down and grabbing an extra third-round pick. The 49ers, a team that seems to know a thing or two about player personnel, immediately took Reid with the pick Dallas vacated.
And Frederick, for his part, told a Dallas radio station that even he didn't believe he'd be taken when he was.
"I thought I was a second-round offensive lineman," he told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan. "I thought somewhere in the second round would be more of a fit for me. I truly didn't expect this."
Sometimes, you can't make this stuff up.
“This was a draft where those moving back weren’t getting near what they should have,” the younger Jones later said. “It’s a real debate about what is more valuable, one player or two players. What you have to come to grips with is the guy you pick at No. 31 and the one you get at No. 74 a better deal than what we would have picked at No 18?”
That interesting philosophy aside, the Cowboys almost certainly could have grabbed Frederick in the second round if they really wanted him. And given their glaring need at the safety position, passing up Florida safety Matt Elam (who the Baltimore Ravens took with the next pick) and Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien (who will be a second-round steal for somebody) would tend to indicate that neither Jones in charge understands the concept of player value.
The Cowboys' recent draft history doesn't just suggest that fast; it confirms it. The team has precisely zero picks left on the roster from the 2009 draft -- also known as the Roy Williams draft, because that was when the Joneses got fleeced by the Detroit Lions into giving up their first-round pick for receiver Roy Williams. Jerry Jones recently defended the 2008 draft, which featured Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins as first-round picks and had some thinking that maybe the Cowboys were better off without those first-round picks in the first place.
“We got starting time out of both of them,’’ Jerry Jones said in early April. “That’s not enough, but those guys aren’t NFL busts."
By those loose standards, we suppose so. But both players were overvalued disappointments, and that's been the order of the day for the franchise when the football decisions have been under Jones control. Perhaps that's because they struggle with the concept of football value in the first place. When it was pointed out to Stephen Jones that the Cowboys should have received a second-round pick per the trade value chart for their move down, Jones bristled.
“Not accurate,” he said. “We actually did better than the chart.”
Jerry Jones then said that “it’s a mistake to think that transactions go by any trade chart ... We invented trade charts; invented them in the NFL.”
The trade value chart isn't the be-all and-all, but if you're going to take credit for something, you should, you know, actually have done it. Technically, it was former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson who brought the trade value chart to prominence in the NFL, and it was Cowboys insider Mike McCoy who really put in the work. So Jones is using the royal "we" there, just as he did when taking credit for the picks Johnson used to build a team that won three Super Bowls in the 1990s. That's why Johnson bailed, and it's why the Cowboys can't retain the kind of high-level talent that will consistently make the right kind of football decisions.
The Travis Frederick pick isn't the disease; just another symptom of the overall malaise.