There Johnny Manziel was, waiting for the call when the Dallas Cowboys came on the clock with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and some fans wanted Jerry Jones to pull the trigger on the former Aggies quarterback. Twitter was on the verge of an implosion, and even ESPN and NFL Network announcers were calling for the marriage to happen.
And then, Roger Goodell approached the podium to utter these words: “With the 16th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select Zack Martin, offensive tackle, Notre Dame.”
The drama was deflated in an instant as Jones passed on Johnny Football, whom was linked to Big D in the days leading up to the offseason’s grandest spectacle. It’s easy to assume that it must have taken every ounce of restraint for him to do so.
But Jones’ display of judiciousness was the right move, a rare football-first decision that could reap immediate benefits for his highly criticized team.
While he would have filled a few more seats at AT&T Stadium, Manziel was not a good fit for the Cowboys, who have a pretty good quarterback in Tony Romo — and have 108 million reasons to stand by him.
“There’s no way any quarterback comes in here and beats out Tony Romo,” Jones said, via ESPN.com. “As you well know in here, Romo — by contract as well as commitment — is going to be the quarterback for the Cowboys for several years to come.”
Instead, Jones chose to protect his investment by adding Martin, regarded by most evaluators as the top offensive line prospect in the class, to an already solid front five. It wasn’t the “sexiest” pick, but it certainly was logical.
Romo, sacked 35 times in 2013, surely isn’t going turn his nose up at a 6-foot-4, 308-pound technician that is capable of playing all three positions on the O-line. Not when the 34-year-old signal-caller is rehabbing his surgically repaired back and will look to avoid as much contact as possible this season.
Delving deeper, the Martin selection proved to be a theme for how the Cowboys approached the draft. Strapped for cash with monumental salary cap issues — admittedly the fault of Jones — they spent many of their picks filling gaping holes on their roster, staying true to their board instead of reaching.
A good example of this came with their second- and fourth-round choices — defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and linebacker Anthony Hitchens, respectively.
Lawrence will help plug the hole left behind by DeMarcus Ware, who was released this offseason in a cap-related move. Hitchens was expected to be groomed as an outside ‘backer, but the recent season-ending injury to Sean Lee should mean significant playing time at inside linebacker.
If anything, Lawrence and Hitchens are infusions of talent for a defense that sorely needed it.
It’s subjective — and borderline unnecessarily — to assess a grade to Jones’ draft haul. There’s no difference between an A or F because no one knows how any of these prospects will ultimately turn out.
But if you had to, give Jones a P … for patience.
We’re talking about a guy who has an affinity for splash moves and headline-making, and he avoided Manziel Mania to take a tackle. Perhaps Jones is turning over a new leaf. Or his advisers finally got the better of him.
Either way, this is one decision he won’t soon regret.