Cowboys shock Claiborne with trade; more first-round thoughts
NEW YORK -- The Morris Claiborne story fell into the laps of America on day one of the NFL Draft Thursday night, the same way Claiborne found himself a Dallas Cowboy.
The Cowboys didn't interview the LSU cornerback at the Scouting Combine in February. They didn't spend time with him at the LSU pro day, or bring him into Dallas for a pre-draft visit, or schedule a visit to see him on campus. "I never heard from them -- not one time, ever,'' Claiborne said Thursday night.
Meanwhile, when the Cowboys did their mock drafts and draft scenarios early this week, the scouts and club officials in the room debated who they would trade up for if given the opportunity. There was only one player who was a resounding yes: Claiborne. Not safety Mark Barron if he was still on the board; they'd determined if he fell to them at No. 14, the Cowboys would take him. But in none of the draft models did Claiborne fall as far as No. 6. Dallas chief operating officer and director of player personnel Stephen Jones already determined at 14, Claiborne was a pipe dream, so why fly him in or spend time in Baton Rouge with him. Waste of time.
But when Claiborne began slipping, Jones picked up the phone and called St. Louis COO Kevin Demoff, who had the sixth pick. "The Rams told us we wouldn't necessarily have to pay full retail to move up to No. 6,'' Jones said. "Now there's no way we'd have given three picks. But we found out they'd take our two for us to move those eight slots. We cherish that second-round pick. But this was a great player, and if we had a chance to get him we thought we really should. We had Claiborne our top-rated defensive player.''
Then dominoes fell. Jacksonville, at seven, traded up ahead of St. Louis to take wideout Justin Blackmon. He would have been the Rams' pick. So now the Rams, at six, lost the player they really wanted and had four players to choose from. Two were defensive tackles -- Fletcher Cox and Michael Brockers. When Jones called, Demoff agreed to the deal. Because the Rams thought they could get one of these players in the group at 14 if they traded down, it wasn't a tough call.
So why did the Cowboys, with no personal contact, feel so good about Claiborne? "We have an impeccable relationship, our scouts and coaches do, with LSU coaches,'' said Jones. "We felt we knew everything about him.''
Everything, Jones said, including the reported learning difficulties stemming from Claiborne scoring a four (out of 50) on the IQ-type Wonderlic Test. "We studied that,'' said Jones, "and I can tell you we had absolutely zero issues with it.''
The Wonderlic story for Claiborne is a strange one. He claims he scored a four because when he took the test at the Scouting Combine, he found out it had nothing to do with football. He said he filled out 15 or 18 of the 50 answers, then put the test away and didn't finish. "I came to the Combine for football,'' Claiborne said Thursday night, "and I didn't see any football questions on the test. So I didn't finish it. That test doesn't tell me who I am.''
Jones said the LSU coaches told Dallas scouts Claiborne had no issue with learning the defense or adjusting when the need arose. And not that a 20-minute conversation on draft night can prove much about intelligence, but Claiborne showed little evidence of an awful test score when he met with reporters Thursday night. Affable and humbled by the pick, he said he was hurt when followers on Twitter made fun of his low score. (After posting a couple of notes on Claiborne on Twitter Thursday night, I got some lunkheads making fun of Claiborne too. Amazing how cavalierly cruel people can be in the anonymous world of Twitter.)
"Some people,'' he said accurately, "are just heartless.''
Back to the stunner of Claiborne slipping until Dallas could get him. The Cowboys never spoke to him in draft season until owner Jerry Jones called him Thursday and said: "Do you want to be a Cowboy? If this deal goes through, you're going to be a Cowboy.''
"Yes sir,'' Claiborne said -- still not believing for certain that he was talking to Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
When he realized it, he was blown away. And he still seemed stunned an hour later, standing in the bowels of Radio City Music Hall, explaining how a kid from Shreveport -- half Saints country, half Cowboys country -- felt about being drafted by the legendary team that hadn't had anything to do with him all winter and spring.
"Amazing,'' he said. "Amazing. Following in the footsteps of Deion Sanders.
Talked to Minnesota GM Rick Spielman after round one. He told me there was another team -- Tampa Bay -- interested in moving to No. 3. And before the round began, Spielman was in talks about swapping picks with Cleveland at four and Tampa Bay at five.
Cleveland had two picks in the fourth round (100 and 118 overall), the second pick acquired from Atlanta in the Julio Jones deal last draft day. The Browns also had two picks in the fifth round (139 and 160 overall), the second one part of the Brady Quinn deal with Denver two years ago. And the Browns had three seventh-round picks (211, 245, 247 overall), the final two compensatory picks awarded by the league.
Was Spielman bluffing? Would Tampa Bay have made the move up? I'm not so sure. But after the Browns lost Robert Griffin III to Washington because the Redskins made a better "final'' offer for the second overall pick in March, you can be sure Cleveland wasn't going to get caught short again.
"Cleveland had house money to play with,'' Spielman said. "Why not use the house money they built up from making good trades to get something they really wanted? Because there was a legitimate threat behind them, they moved up and did what they thought was best.''
Spielman took advantage of a team that started the day with a league-high 13 choices. The Browns traded their lower fourth-round pick, a five and a seven to ensure getting the player of their dreams. Heckert couldn't risk failure. Imagine how sick they would have been in the Browns draft room if they had blown the pick because they wouldn't add, say, the 139th pick in the draft to the pot.
"This is a great kid, I guarantee you, and someone played a cruel joke on him,'' McCartney said. "It is unreal that someone would do that, but it happened.'' Sanu told McCartney after the draft not to worry about him, he'd be fine, and some team will draft him and get a good player. McCartney's right. Sanu must be a good kid, to respond to something that hurtful with an attitude so hopeful.