Stars and Second Guesses: Inside the Dallas Draft Room
IRVING, Texas — What no one on the outside world can see on NFL draft weekend is the gut-punch emotion owners and coaches and GMs feel when they miss out on a player they want. Really want. In this case, for the Cowboys, that player was Paxton Lynch, the quarterback they saw as the heir to Tony Romo, and the player featured on the billboard on I-30, near that shiny jewel of a stadium in Arlington through—they hoped—about 2032.
But at 9:56 p.m. Central Time Thursday, after 67 minutes talking to nine teams trying to deal for a Lynch-enabling pick, reality bit. Word filtered into the room that Denver had traded up with Seattle to pick Lynch. Pall over the room. Observers say owner Jerry Jones, who’d been standing next to the draft board trying to figure the math it might take to move up, looked and sounded crestfallen.
“Well,” Jones said wearily to no one, “guess I’ll sit down now.”
It is not rare to see Jerry Jones open a vein and bleed, and emote. It is rare, though, for one of the most decisive men in the football business, a man who has made his living in oil and gas and football making hard decisions, to not pull the trigger when he thinks the trigger should be pulled. Dallas wouldn’t increase its offer to Seattle from second-round and fourth-round picks to second and third-rounders, and that’s what lost Lynch. Eighteen hours after losing Lynch, the regret was chewing on Jones.
“I’m not gonna go jump from Dallas’s tallest, so let’s put this in perspective,” said Jones, pausing for a few minutes in his day-two draft prep at the Cowboys’ complex. “And I live with second-guessing and disappointments. That’s a part of this business. But if I had to do it all over again? I’d give the three.”
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With Dallas in the epicenter of a draft that was unpredictable after the top two picks, Jones agreed to share his thought process, and his organization’s, in this draft. His thoughts, and the observations of sources with knowledge of the Cowboys’ draft room this weekend, form the reporting of this story.
This was a weekend of draft drama, from the Laremy Tunsil video, to Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal going in the teens and Reggie Ragland and Jarran Reed in the 40s, to the Jets making Christian Hackenberg their lifeline at quarterback, to Myles Jack getting picked after Jaylon Smith, to Keenan Reynolds going to Baltimore and not New England. But it would be hard to beat the drama in Dallas. A lot happened.
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Prelude to a Draft, Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., Cowboys offices at Valley Ranch
The Cowboys have a great offensive line, and their makeshift running game was ninth in the league in rushing last year. They need a pass-rusher more than a running back. They need a corner more than a running back. Jones knows this, and he knows the outside world thinks it’d be absurd for him to pass on the premier players in this draft at spots he needs.
But the 73-year-old owner of the Cowboys has a feeling about this draft. It’s the kind of feeling he had about the oil and gas business in the ’70s and ’80s that got him the kind of money to buy this franchise.
“I’ve had my finest hours in business going against the grain,” he said. “In the oil business, I’m drilling between dry holes trying to make a strike, and everybody around us is laying off geologists. Business is bad. I jump in. Why? The opportunity’s good. Buying the Cowboys when I did? Bad business—they were down. Again, opportunity. This decision, this draft, is a little bit contrary, but it’s in step with how I think.”
That’s because Jones and the Cowboys have decided that Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is their top target. Dallas had success running the ball in 2015, even with teams loading the box on the Cowboys when Tony Romo was hurt. Jones and the coaching staff feel a great running game will keep the offense on the field more and a suspect defense on the field less, and they view Elliott as a far more versatile back than Dallas’s 2014 rushing champ, the since-departed DeMarco Murray. Despite their rushing proficiency in 2015, the Cowboys ran 45 more offensive snaps in 2014 than last season. Elliott’s presence could lead to Dallas dominating in time of possession and offensive plays—both good for an average defense. Around the building, the oft-repeated thought is that Dallas can help its defense most by picking Elliott.
In the Cowboys’ draft room, support staff and scouts and coaches ring three quarters of a large rectangular table. At the head of the table sits, from left to right, mostly a family affair: vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones (who mans the phone for most trade discussions); Jerry Jones; executive vice president Charlotte Jones Anderson (Jerry’s daughter); coach Jason Garrett; and just around the corner of the table, executive vice president of sales and marketing Jerry Jones Jr. Stephen Jones is at the nerve center, with direct lines to 31 NFL teams on the phone console in front of him.
Moments after the Chargers picked defensive end Joey Bosa, Dallas was on the clock with the fourth pick. Jacksonville had the fifth pick; Dallas knew the Jags were no threat to take Elliott. Baltimore had the sixth pick; Dallas suspected cornerback Jalen Ramsey was the Ravens’ target too. The aim for Dallas here was to move down two slots and add Baltimore’s third-round pick, number 70 overall. Dallas felt it could package that third-round pick and the Cowboys’ second-rounder, 34th overall, to move into the second half of the first round and snag Lynch.
Stephen Jones, one observer noted, picked up the phone and called Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome. “Hey Oz,” Stephen Jones said. “We probably will pick here, but …” Newsome told Jones that to move up from 6 to 4 in the first round he’d give Baltimore’s fourth-rounder, 104 overall. “We need a three to do it,” Stephen Jones told him. “If you change your mind, call me.”
Later, Jerry Jones explained the thought process thusly: “We probably get the same player at 6 that we get at 4, but the extra third-round pick lets us take our two and do something special. I am fine with taking risks. In fact, I’m a big proponent of risk. The problem is when you take too much of it for not enough gain.” As the minutes passed before the pick, Jerry Jones got lost in thought, one observer noting him leaning back in his chair in the quiet draft room, chewing on a yellow pencil. He was thinking if he traded to six, and lost both Elliott and Ramsey on the next two picks, Dallas would take pass-rusher Leonard Floyd of Georgia. He liked Floyd. He loved Elliott.
“I’ve had my finest hours in business going against the grain,” Jones said. “Business is bad. I jump in. Why? The opportunity’s good. This draft is a little bit contrary, but it’s in step with how I think.”
His coach did too. Garrett, on Monday, closed his office door and spent seven hours looking at every snap of Ramsey at Florida State in 2015, and every snap of Elliott at Ohio State in 2016. He liked Ramsey. He loved Elliott. Garrett told the Joneses he favored Elliott. So the group was solid as the clock ran down here for pick number four of the first round of the 2016 draft.
“Two minutes,” someone called out.
Jones asked offensive coordinator Scott Linehan what he thought. “Zeke’s an impact player,” Linehan said.
Quiet in the room, observers said. No one spoke. The Ravens didn’t call. The Joneses wished they would, but now …
It was obvious Baltimore wasn’t bluffing. Eight minutes had passed from the time Stephen Jones told Newsome to call if he changed his mind. It was clear he hadn’t. And Jerry Jones didn’t want to risk losing the player who’d been the team’s preferred target for months.
“Get Zeke on the phone,” Jerry Jones said. And he instructed the card to be turned in with Ezekiel Elliott’s name on it.
Jones’ grin was Texas-sized when he heard Elliott from a noisy draft green room in Chicago.
“Hey Dallas Cowboy! This is Jerry Jones!!”
Through the noise, Elliott told Jones he wanted to win the Super Bowl.
Jones smiled wider: “Let’s go win the Super Bowl!” he yelled into the phone.
A couple of minutes later, on the ESPN telecast, Jon Gruden appeared. If you were watching Gruden talk about the Dallas quarterback situation, you weren’t alone. Jones, the next day, said he was watching, and he heard Gruden’s words loud and clear.
“They have got to get back into the first round and get a quarterback now,” Gruden said on ESPN. “They have already proven they go nowhere without Tony Romo.”
It was like Gruden was speaking to one person: Jerry Jones.
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One observer estimated it was about midway through the round, around 8:50 p.m., just before Cleveland picked Corey Coleman at 15, that the talk in the room started about Paxton Lynch.
Dallas had Lynch as a clear first-round pick, the 12th overall player on their board, and the conversation in the room echoed what they’d discussed as a staff for weeks: We think Romo’s going to be our quarterback for three or four more years, but he’s also been hurt two of the past three years. At some point we’ve got to start the process of finding his heir.
The plan was to offer Dallas’s second-round and third-round picks, 34 and 67 overall, to teams in the late teens and early 20s—Indianapolis, Buffalo, the Jets, Houston—but then swap out the third-rounder for Dallas’s fourth-rounder, 101 overall, starting in the mid-20s. Cincinnati (24), Pittsburgh (25), Seattle (26), Green Bay (27) and Kansas City (28) all got called. Lukewarm responses, mostly. Buffalo (19) said no to the offer of the second and third. The Jets said no.
Seattle GM John Schneider wanted to keep talking.
Jerry Jones, one observer said, turned to Garrett right about here and said: “The question is, can we really afford to lose two good players—good players—and take a guy as a hedge for the future? I think I’d rather give this two and three and have Lynch … or have [Mississippi State quarterback] Dak [Prescott] in the fourth.”
Given his druthers, Garrett was okay settling for Connor Cook or Prescott down the road in the draft, maybe in Round 4 if they lasted that long. With needs on defense, Garrett preferred to take two defensive players in rounds two and three from among this pool: Oklahoma State pass-rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith and Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins. But he also saw the fascination with Lynch, and if Lynch was the guy, Garrett would truly be happy to take him on as a project.
Between 9:25 and 9:45, Stephen Jones had three conversations with Seattle. Jones started with a simple swap offer: Seattle would send the 26th pick to Dallas, with Dallas returning a two and four. Next call: Stephen Jones, apparently sensing interest, tried to move it along, offering to add Dallas’ sixth-round pick if Seattle would give its lower of two seventh-round picks in return.
Now 9:47. Cincinnati on the clock; the Bengals, at 24, called to say no. Jerry Jones stood at the board near his seat, one observer saying he looked lost in thought as Stephen said to him: “Anything else? Want me to try something else?” Jerry Jones had no answers.
The Chiefs called. Said they’d trade from 28 to 34 but only if Dallas included its three, not the four. No dice. Bengals picked cornerback William Jackson III. Steelers up. Pittsburgh never considered trading at No. 25 and made a pick quickly: cornerback Artie Burns.
Now 9:54. Schneider back on the phone. The call was quick. Stephen Jones got off the phone, turned to Jerry Jones at the board, and as one eyewitness recalled, son said to father: “No way with Seattle. Too much. They want our two and three.”
Quiet in the room. “Thoughts?” Stephen Jones said to his father. “Any thoughts?”
They had a minute, maybe, to up the offer to Seattle, which was the only fish on the line. But no new offer was forthcoming. It was a minute later, maybe two, that Denver consummated the deal with Seattle for the chance to pick Lynch. The Denver deal was clearly better. Dallas was offering picks 34 and 101 for the 26th overall pick. Denver was offering picks 31 and 94—and by staying in the first round with its pick, Seattle got to control the player it picked for a fifth year, as opposed to four-year control for a second-round pick. Denver’s offer was superior. Dallas could have trumped Denver only one way—by offering its third, the 67th overall choice.
That was it. If Lynch turned into a star instead of wearing one, it would bug Jones for years to come.
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There’s no way Jerry Jones should have been wide awake Friday morning at 6 with just three hours of sleep, staring at the ceiling in his Dallas home. Not after the emotion of the first day of the draft, the near-trade with Baltimore early in the round, the fishing expeditions late in the round trying earnestly to trade up for Lynch. All of that stress and exertion should have been worth about four Ambiens, but here was Jones, wide awake.
“When I got up this morning,” Jones said Friday afternoon, “I second-guessed the hell out of myself for not giving the three. I have always paid a premium for a premium. So many times my bargains have let me down.”
No time for being bummed now, though. The second through fourth rounds were down, up, down, up, up … a range of emotion in and out of the draft room. Cleveland used the first pick of the day to steal Ogbah. Tennessee took defensive end Kevin Dodd, and then it was time for the Cowboys to shock the world.
As the draft sat now, with Ogbah gone, they hoped to get a boom-or-bust project, the nerve-damaged Notre Dame star linebacker Smith, in this round, and then a three-technique candidate for the middle of the defensive line in the third round, Collins. Smith might have been the first pick in the draft but for a terrible knee injury in his January bowl game that left him with drop foot. Dallas had some inside information here. The Cowboys’ orthopedist, Dan Cooper, did the surgery on Smith in January, and he told Jones he believed the nerve would regenerate and that Smith eventually would return to play football, probably at a high level. But there’s no guarantee. Which is why Jaylon Smith was sitting in his home in Fort Wayne, Ind., wondering when he’d get drafted instead of being one of the draft’s TV stars in the green room in Chicago.
Dallas considered trading down to Indianapolis at 48 but didn’t like the risk. The Cowboys heard—reliably, they thought—that New England was aiming to pick Smith near the end of this round. Remember the Jones/risk story. Trading down 14 slots, already having lost Ogbah? Too much risk, not enough reward.
Jerry Jones told his man in Chicago to turn the card in. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame.
“I am at peace,” Jones told someone in the draft room. “I am at total peace.”
Then he grabbed the phone, connected to a living room in Fort Wayne.
“Jaylon, it’s Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s great to be talking to a Dallas Cowboy!”
Second-guessing the hell out of himself in the morning. Making some damaged kid’s dreams come true in the evening. Jerry Jones’ life.
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One last story. On day three, Dallas sat at pick 101, the third pick in the fourth round. Cleveland owned picks 99 and 100. The Cowboys favored Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook marginally over Prescott. Cleveland wasn’t going to take a quarterback, having just taken USC passer Cody Kessler near the end of round three. So the Cowboys offered Cleveland next year’s sixth-round pick to move up from 101 to 100. The Browns said no. Then the Cowboys offered this year’s sixth-round pick. The Browns said no. Cleveland took picks 114 and 154 from Oakland, and the Raiders jumped Dallas and picked Cook.
Bummer. But Jerry Jones and Garrett recalled Roger Staubach talking to them about quarterbacks a month or so ago, telling them leadership and belief in self were so vital to a quarterback’s fate. And Prescott has both, plentifully. So we’ll see what happens with these two quarterbacks. Three, if you include the other one Dallas wanted, the one wearing orange in Denver.
That’s the entire draft exercise. In mourning for Lynch. Euphoric for Smith and Elliott. And having no idea for the next couple of years whether either emotion is well-founded. That’s the story of the draft, and in all of the league it wasn’t on display as vividly as in Dallas over the weekend.
Now, on other NFL campuses over the weekend...
So, there’s no way I can do the draft justice after being submerged in the Cowboys’ situation. But these notes interested me the most:
• Jacksonville: Jalen and Jack, meet Jackson. “Maybe the football gods are paying us back for what happened to Dante Fowler last year,” GM Dave Caldwell told Sunday. The Jags traded up two slots in the second round with Baltimore to pick linebacker Myles Jack, who tumbled out of the first round over concerns he’d need microfracture knee surgery. Jack and top pick Jalen Ramsey will team with big-money three-technique Malik Jackson and last year’s top pick, pass-rusher Dante Fowler, who missed all of 2015 with a knee injury. No team has improved on defense as much in the past two months as the Jags—depending, of course, on the health of Jack. “Doctors are like scouts and personnel evaluators,” Caldwell said. “Every doctor has an opinion, and ours consulted quite a few cartilage experts. We don’t feel Myles will need microfracture. Our feelings never changed from the scouting combine to the medical recheck.”
• I like what Washington did. GM Scot McCloughan might have picked the best wideout in the draft (Josh Doctson) and landed his version of Kam Chancellor in inconsistent safety Su’a Cravens. But McCloughan also picked up three 2017 draft picks, one each in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. Having 10 picks in the draft next year gets a team off to a great start in the personnel season. The Browns and Vikings also have two extra picks next year, and of course Cleveland’s are in such prime positions—the first and second rounds.
• There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Keanu Neal. Every year, there’s a whoa pick—not that it’s wrong, and not that it won’t work. And it’s clear that this pick was GM Thomas Dimitroff’s attempt to find Atlanta’s version of Kam Chancellor, the punishing safety coach Dan Quinn had as a defensive coordinator in Seattle. Maybe Neal wouldn’t have been available in the second round for Atlanta at pick number 50, but now the weight is on him to be a disruptive force from day one.
• Speaking of the pressure being on a guy … The Bucs not only used a second-round pick on a kicker, FSU’s Roberto Aguayo, but also traded a fourth-round pick to move up to draft him. It’s hard to not like Aguayo’s potential after a very good career at Florida State. But if I’m trading up for a kicker, and drafting him in the second round, I’d want him to be better than 71.9 percent from 40 yards and longer in a college career. That’s what Aguayo was.
• Ravens 1, Patriots 0. There’s no certainty that New England would have used one of its two sixth-round picks to take Navy quarterback-turned-multiple-weapon Keenan Reynolds if he was there, though Baltimore got what it considered reliable information that the Patriots would try to draft Reynolds, who’d been worked out at least twice by the Patriots, including on one personal visit by Bill Belichick. The Ravens beat them to it, using the 182nd pick to draft one of the most interesting players in recent college history.
Reynolds, an option quarterback, set the all-time NCAA record with 88 rushing touchdowns in 50 games, and he’ll likely be asked to be an all-purpose weapon in the NFL—returning, rushing, receiving, sort of a latter-day Antwaan Randle-El, who played quarterback at Indiana and was a multiple weapon with the Steelers. Baltimore plans to use Reynolds as a receiver/returner, and maybe a direct-snap back. But he’ll have to be proficient as a punt-returner to make the team.
Two interesting things about this pick: GM Ozzie Newsome and assistant GM Eric DeCosta saw Reynolds at his lone post-season showcase, the East-West Shrine Game, in a practice just before he strained a hamstring—and they were impressed with the traits punt-returners need to have: short-area quickness and sure hands. Reynolds couldn’t work at full speed for several weeks after that, so some teams cooled on him. And when the Ravens heard on the morning of the draft that he’d been working out learning the return game with Brian Mitchell, one of the great returners ever, John Harbaugh called Mitchell on the morning of the draft. Mitchell, who was coached by Harbaugh with the Eagles a few years back, said he thought Reynolds could be a gifted returner.
Finally, keep in mind what a storied player Reynolds was in the state of Maryland; Annapolis is 40 miles from the Ravens facility in Owings Mills, north of Baltimore. When the Ravens called to inform him they were choosing him, they put the call on speaker, so everyone in the draft room could hear the reaction of one of the great athletes in recent state history. His first words when Newsome welcomed him to the team: “You will not regret this choice.”
• Assist, Bidwill. Last Monday, three days before the first round, Arizona GM Steve Keim and president Michael Bidwill boarded a plane for Los Angeles to meet Mississippi defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. This was not a courtesy visit. This was so Keim could get a better handle on whether he should trust Nkemdiche and make him a serious contender for the 29th overall pick in the draft. Keim already liked Nkemdiche and could get past his bizarre indiscretion—jumping out of a hotel window, reportedly after smoking marijuana last winter. Now the question was, could Bidwill, who would have to sign off on the pick?
“Michael is a former federal prosecutor,” Keim said, “and so his BS-meter is pretty good. Sometimes we’ll be at the combine and we’ll interview a guy who’s had some problems in college, and the scouts will say, ‘Well, he sounds pretty good,’ and Michael will say, ‘Oh, he’s full of crap. Don’t trust him.’”
After the 90-minute meeting in L.A., Bidwill joined Keim in the Nkemdiche buy-in. And Thursday night, Nkemdiche became a Cardinal.
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Quotes of the Week
“Dallas Texas! Dallas TEXAS!”
—Jaylon Smith, looking down at his ringing cell phone Friday evening, realizing it was a Dallas area code (972), and gasping out the city and state of the team he was figuring must be drafting him with the 34th pick of the 2016 draft. He was right. Smith answered the phone, and it was the Cowboys calling.
“With the 78th pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the New England Patriots AND Tom Brady select Joe Thuney, North Carolina State.”
—Kevin Faulk, the former Patriots running back, who announced one of the team’s third-round picks thusly on national TV. Faulk wore a Tom Brady jersey under his sport coat.
Not too subtle there.
“When I’m locked down onto a table with a mask for daily radiation, I have the techs at MD Anderson [Cancer Center in Houston] pipe in Christian music. It brings me a sense of peace. On that note, there is something special about experiencing the humility that comes with being a cancer patient. You realize pretty quickly that it’s non-discriminatory. Doesn’t seem to matter if you’re middle-aged, old, young, poor, rich, black, white, Hispanic, Islamic, Asian. It is indiscriminate. There’s a way-too-large community of cancer patients, inspired by survivors but equally inspired by those who fought the good fight but eventually succumbed. There is one myth, in my opinion, I would share. The mantra of ‘kick cancer’s ass’ may be well-intended but it’s misplaced. Based on what I have experienced and having seen and heard others, you don’t kick cancer’s butt. It kicks your rear end. You just take the punches, get back up and let it hit you again and again … You pray you’re standing in the end. But it’s day-to-day. One day at a time.”
—ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen, in an email to Tom Hoffarth of insidesocal.com, for his “Farther off the Wall” blog. Mortensen is being treated in Houston for throat cancer.
“My calling card is a big, physical offensive lineman. I’m a guy who’s gonna move people off the ball. I’m gonna get the running game started. Like I said at the combine, I like to run through people’s souls. I love the game of football.”
—San Francisco first-round guard Joshua Garnett, to KING-TV in Seattle.
“Kickers are second-rounders too, baby!”
—NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, after Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, a kicker, was picked in the second round by Tampa Bay.
“I graduated in August of 2014 with my undergraduate in business management, and then I graduated in December with my masters in marketing. I’m not the smartest guy in the room. I’m not a super nerd, but you know I just pick up on things.”
—New Colts center Ryan Kelly, on getting two degrees in five academic years while playing at Alabama.
“He’s quick. He’s twitchy. Think Edelman.”
—Bjll Polian, ESPN analyst, on Houston’s selection of quarterback-turned-wideout Braxton Miller, comparing him to Julian Edelman.
“Definitely a lot of players would go crying to their parents, but I didn’t even tell my parents. I was kind of embarrassed to tell my parents because I had never been yelled at like that in a long time.”
—Carl Nassib, the Browns’ third-round pass-rusher from Penn State, recalling when then-PSU coach Bill O’Brien told him to “forget about pro football” when he was trying to earn playing time in college.
“I love Carson Wentz, but Jared Goff is gonna be my quarterback. The way he gets the ball out—how he knows where to go with it and gets it to the receiver perfectly, in stride, in the tightest of windows—it’s a sight to behold. You look at the way the Patriots play, with Tom [Brady] just zipping the ball to [Julian] Edelman and [Danny] Amendola before you can even think about touching him, and that’s where football is today.”
—Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the night before the draft, to Mike Silver of NFL.com, in Silver’s excellent walk-up story to the first pick of the draft.
“Keep the faith. You take care, buddy. And I am going to hit a home run for you tonight.”
—Red Sox DH David Ortiz, in a video message he recorded with former teammate Kevin Millar, to a little boy named Maverick suffering from cancer. Ortiz hit a winning two-run homer in the eighth inning Friday night to beat the Yankees 4-2.
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Pronunciation of the Week
For the record, Eagle fans, your new rookie tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai of TCU, pronounces his name thusly:
Hah-lah-poo-lih-VAH-tee … VIE-tie
Stats of the Week
Keenan Reynolds, the surprise sixth-round pick for the Baltimore Ravens, is expected to compete for a roster spot as a punt-returner, special-teamer, running back (probably mostly on direct snaps), and possibly a kickoff-returner. Between his military commitments, of course.
Reynolds played 50 games at the Naval Academy.
In those 50 games, Reynolds:
• Rushed 977 times.
• Caught one pass.
• Threw 462 passes.
• Accounted for 119 touchdowns (88 rushing, 31 throwing).
• Had zero kick returns.
• Had zero punt returns.
Totals: 1,440 plays in the rushing/passing game, 0 in the return game. That’s going to be a pretty darned good story if he makes it as a returner.
U.S. audiences for the first night of the NFL draft:
|NFL draft (ESPN, NFLN)||8,328,000|
|NBA playoffs (TNT, NBCSN)||3,464,000|
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Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Michigan State Quarterback Notes of the Draft:
In 2012, former Spartan Kirk Cousins was picked in the fourth round, 102nd overall, by Washington.
In 2016, former Spartan Connor Cook was picked in the fourth round, 100th overall, by Oakland.
Cousins redshirted his first year at MSU, was a backup his second year, won the job his third year, and started for three years, leading the Spartans to the Big Ten championship game in his final season.
Cook redshirted his first year at MSU, was a backup his second year, won the job his third year, and started for three years, leading the Spartans to the Big Ten championship game in his final season.
Cousins entered the NFL as a clear backup in Washington, to Robert Griffin III, at the age of 23.
Cook enters the NFL as a clear backup in Oakland, to Derek Carr, at the age of 23.
The fourth-round pick of the Colts, Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison, was arrested in July 2013 for barking at a police dog. Charges were dropped three days later, with the state saying Morrison didn’t bark at the dog out of malice. In the police report in Alachua County, Fla., officers said Morrison’s defense was he barked because the dog barked first.
Two weeks ago Cleveland possessed the second pick in the NFL draft.
With three trades, the Browns turned that pick, plus a sixth-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick in 2017, into two ones, two twos, two threes, a four and a five. The list:
|2016||1||15||WR Corey Coleman, Baylor|
|2016||3||76||T Shon Coleman, Auburn|
|2016||3||93||QB Cody Kessler, USC|
|2016||4||114||WR Ricardo Louis, Auburn|
|2016||5||154||WR Jordan Payton, UCLA|
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
There’s something emotional, when you’re a person of a certain age, about driving on the road, over the same spot, where the assassination of John F. Kennedy occurred. Staying in Dallas for a few days, I drove four times over the precise spot where Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet killed Kennedy. Each time it was a little chilling. Glancing over at the former Texas School Book Depository, and realizing how far Oswald was from JFK, and that Kennedy was a moving target, you realize what a marksman the guy must have been. Just a sad moment, every time I drive past—yet it’s a compelling place for me to go.
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Headline of the Week
ARREST OF A SALESMAN
Arthur Miller popped for selling coke
—From the Laurel (Miss.) Leader-Call, after a local peddler with a Broadway name was arrested.
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Tweets of the Week
QBs taken in the 2nd round by the Jets: Christian Hackenberg, Geno Smith, Kellen Clemens, Browning Nagle, Al Woodall, John Huarte #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) April 30, 2016
People love to crush the "anonymous scout" - I cant imagine what the masses would think if they heard actual draft meetings— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 27, 2016
Welcome Spriggs! I chew skoal wintergreen and like my coffee 2 creams, 2 sugars.— TJ Lang (@TJLang70) April 30, 2016
The Green Bay offensive lineman, tweeting to the Packers’ second-round pick, tackle Jason Spriggs, with his preferences for, well, perks that rookies must deliver.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think a lot of us are trying to divine exactly what would have happened if the gas-mask bong video (now there are four words I never thought I’d use in succession in my life) hadn’t surfaced minutes before the draft. After talking to several teams in the meat of the curve, this is what I think would have happened, in order, after the two quarterbacks go 1-2:
• At 3, San Diego takes Joey Bosa. A lock. Bosa was atop the Chargers’ board last September and never got overtaken.
• At 4, Dallas takes Ezekiel Elliott.
• At 5, Jacksonville takes Jalen Ramsey.
• At 6, here’s where it gets interesting. Baltimore liked Tunsil a lot, but coach John Harbaugh liked Ronnie Stanley a lot, in part because of his close relationship with Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who was pushing Stanley hard. In the end, I think the Ravens trade out to get huge value, either for one of the tackles or DeForest Buckner. No question Baltimore could have made a killing by ransoming this pick, then settling for, say, the 11th or 13th or 15th pick overall. And then it would have gotten mysterious, because there’s a very good chance here that the object of a trade-up would have been Tunsil.
One final point about Tunsil: What happened to him was unfair, to be sure. And he lost some money Thursday night—but how much money is a silly speculation game, because no one knows exactly where he would have gone, particularly because I take Jon Robinson at his word that the Titans had Jack Conklin rated higher. But let’s say Tunsil would have gone eighth without the bong controversy. So he went five spots lower. Even without the reefer madness, Tunsil had red flags that concerned teams. And as our Gary Gramling pointed out in his smart weekend draft review, a guy who is smoking pot with a gas mask might well be—and I say might because this image is so foreign to the vast majority of, you know, normal people—an enthusiastic consumer of pot in a league that tests for it and suspends for its use. So it’s right and fair for a team, minutes before the draft, to be concerned enough to make it a factor in their decision. As one personnel man said Saturday night, who knows how far Tunsil would have fallen had the Dolphins not stopped his slide at 13?
2. I think the most likely scenario about how the Tunsil gas-mask images became public stem from what’s happened to him over the past year, when various recruiters for agents started tailing him and trying to sign him. Tunsil let a lot of people get close to him, and those still close to him now fear he handed over passwords for one or more social media accounts to one or more of his new acquaintances. I was told over the weekend that the stepfather he’s had the contentious relationship with isn’t likely to have betrayed him. Another cautionary tale about social media. And, of course, choosing wisely when letting people in your circle—if indeed that’s how this happened.
3. I think, though I didn’t see as much of the draft on TV as, say, Benny from the Bronx, here are a few thoughts about what I did catch:
a. Of all those oddball pick announcements on days two and three, the best, I thought, was Jake Plummer skiing down a slope in Colorado and, once at the bottom, announcing Denver’s fourth-round choice, the 136th pick, running back Devontae Booker.
b. Jason Pierre-Paul with the Make-A-Wish kids in New Jersey was pretty cool too.
c. Mike Tomlin’s never a bad interview.
d. Not a bad reality show when you’ve got Jaylon Smith weeping at his career being trusted by Dallas.
e. Moritz Boehringer. Manna from heaven for NFL Network … and handled exceedingly well by Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen, particularly. Mayock on the phone with Mike Zimmer during a break, and replayed after the break, was good TV.
f. Who wouldn’t want Keenan Reynolds on his team? What presence and maturity.
g. Mike Mayock said Bengals draftee Andrew Billings has “tight ankles.” Wonky. Very wonky.
h. Mel Kiper critiquing-the-salad-bar commercial: A-plus. Could have been an SNL skit.
4. I think—of all the people I spoke to over draft weekend—when I brought up the Sam Bradford-is-ticked-off angle, here is how many NFL folks (coaches and GMs mostly) had empathy for Bradford: zero.
5. I think every year, there’s a particular thing about the draft that just slays me. This year it was the subject of why Baylor nosetackle Andrew Billings fell down the draft board. Most experts thought he’d be gone in the first 50 picks; he went 122nd to Cincinnati, in the fourth round. Ian Rapoport reported he’d spoken to football people Friday night, and the reason Billings was dropping was because he was “a two-down player.” How many nosetackles, exactly, are three-down players? I mean, Rap Sheet is reporting precisely what he should be reporting, and what people in the know are saying about a strange story of a precipitous drop of a good player. But to think it’s odd that a pure nose guy would be dropping because he can only play two downs is ridiculous. Run-stoppers, many relatively high picks, very rarely play every down; they come out of the game on third down, when a pass is expected. Plus, the use of five defensive backs or more has risen from 43 percent of the snaps in 2008 to 63 percent in 2015 … so of course a nose guy is going to be of less value. We all knew that before the draft. Maybe the problem is the experts saying he should have been picked 39 or 59, or whatever.
6. I think no team set out its football philosophy more cogently on draft weekend than the Titans, as Jenny Vrentas discovered on a trip to Nashville. Tennessee GM Jon Robinson picked a mashing tackle, Jack Conklin, in the first round, and a mashing back, Derrick Henry, in the second round, to accompany another mashing back acquired earlier this off-season, DeMarco Murray. Interesting quote from Robinson to Vrentas on Tennessee’s aim: “Teams are starting to build to play in sub defense now a lot, so they are going to more defensive backs. Well, to counteract that, we can play a bigger game, and maybe move some of those smaller guys off the ball, if you will. And it shortens the game. If you can control the ball on offense and be able to run the ball, the clock is shortened. So you get a couple stops on defense, you can score and it really limits the other team’s offensive opportunities.”
7. I think the Jets are a great example of a team in the permanent search for a long-term quarterback—and how much that affects everything you do as an organization. In the past eight drafts, the Jets have picked six quarterbacks. That’s not an indictment in itself; Ron Wolf used to say he liked to pick a quarterback almost every year, just to keep the position fresh because you never know when you’re going to find a rare talent at the most important position. But Wolf used to pick them very late. With the Jets, it’s about the quality of investment. When you take three passers in the top two rounds over an eight-year stretch—and when your hope is that a free agent who is not one of those three will be your starter in 2016 (Ryan Fitzpatrick)—there’s something wrong with how you’re picking quarterbacks. Not that they should stop trying, but it doubles down the pressure on GM Mike Maccagnan to be right with Christian Hackenberg. Interesting dagger thrown by our Andy Benoit, in his review of day two: “By selecting Hackenberg and still having Geno Smith on the roster, the Jets need only to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick and their quarterbacking room will officially have the richest volume of wild, erratic flamethrowers in NFL history.” Since 2009, the list of quarterbacks the Jets have taken:
|2009||1||5||Mark Sanchez, USC|
|2011||7||208||Greg McElroy, Alabama|
|2013||2||39||Geno Smith, West Virginia|
|2014||6||213||Tajh Boyd, Clemson|
|2015||4||103||Bryce Petty, Baylor|
|2016||2||51||Christian Hackenberg, Penn State|
8. I think I am (quietly) rooting for Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard, the Giants’ second-round pick. What a touching story. His dad, former Oklahoma receiver Derrick Shepard, died of a heart attack when Sterling was 6; Sooners coach Bob Stoops gave one of the eulogies at Derrick Shepard’s funeral, and was recruiting Sterling 11 years later. Stoops is a hero here—he made little Shepard a fixture around the program and on the sidelines during Sooners games, and the players became big brothers as Sterling grew. Now Sterling Shepard will have a chance to join Odell Beckham Jr. and perhaps Victor Cruz to form potentially one of the best receiving groups in football. No receiver has better hands than Beckham, but Shepard’s are really good.
9. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick will not play for $7 million in 2016. But I think the Jets will give him a little more, and I believe Fitzpatrick will play. However, it is not a good sign that, as of Friday, the Jets and Jimmy Sexton, the agent of Fitzpatrick, had not spoken in a month.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. RIP Blackie Sherrod, who was a giant for a half-century in Dallas sportswriting.
b. David Ortiz is on pace for 30 homers and 114 RBIs after a two-homer weekend against the Yankees. He’s 40. He says this is his last year. Would he really retire if this keeps up?
c. Dude’s got 49 career regular-season homers against the Yankees.
d. Thank you, Rangers GM Jon Daniels and your staff, for allowing me to bend your ears at the ballpark the other night about baseball. Thanks for the stories about Paul DePodesta, the knowledge about one of my favorite new guys (Rougned Odor), and the stories about Dominican baseball. It’s a great time to be in baseball, from the stories your enthusiastic baseball staff tells.
e. Sarah Lyall wrote a fascinating story in the New York Times about a woman who apparently cheated to win a triathlon in Canada. Then she got the video evidence. Really interesting.
f. Another good Times column here, from Michael Powell, about the brilliance of Jake Arrieta. It featured this gem of a quote from Ryan Braun: “There are no circumstances under which I want to face Arrieta. I’m praying for a rainout.”
g. Kim Jones is really good. Really enjoy watching her reports on NFL Network and learning from her.
h. Superb commentary by Michael Kay on Yanks-Red Sox on Saturday night, talking with honest passion about the Yankees’ troubles. “They look slow. They look tired. They are in dire straits,” Kay said on the telecast Saturday night. It’s hard for a guy who does a team’s games every single day to whack them the way Kay did, but he was speaking with the team down 4-0 in a listless game in Boston, with an 8-13 record. He was speaking the truth.
i. Coffeenerdness: Next time you’re in Dallas, try the Flying Horse Café on Commerce Street for your coffee. Locally owned, very friendly and welcoming, with their own (Emeryville, Calif.) brew, and strong espresso … with good food too. Had the oatmeal there Thursday, and it was delicious.
j. Beernerdness: Tried the Community Witbier (Community Beer Company, Dallas) while in Dallas, and was pleased to find such a solid choice deep in the heart. Only thing missing was a lemon to go with it.
k. “I hope your dog gets hit by a car.”
l. “I hope your boyfriend beats you.”
m. “I hope you get raped again.”
n. “You need to be hit in the head by a hockey puck and killed.”
p. Such a powerful public service by Chicago’s Brad Burke, taping a four-minute spot with random men reading real Tweets to the faces of Chicago sports writers Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro. These weren’t the men who actually pressed send and posted the Tweets to Spain and DiCaro, some of which you can read above. They were just guys sitting in and reading them for these two women to hear, so we could hear the harassment that is an everyday part of the lives of female sportswriters. Congrats to Burke, who has a podcast called “Just Not Sports,” for the idea and the execution.
q. I asked Spain about the project. She said: “There’s people who say, ‘I’d never do your job.’ There are also people who say when they hear about [the harassment], ‘Get thicker skin,’ or ‘Ignore it.’ That a really sad testament on our society. This is simply not normal, when someone is allowed to say, ‘I hope Ray Rice beats you up.’ We should have some humanity. There are some people who are so angry with me for being born a woman and growing up wanting to talk about sports. These people basically say, ‘You are not welcome in this space.’ What I hope from this [PSA] is for some basic humanity and for people to think twice about saying some of the things on social media that they say.”
r. Thanks to Spain and DiCaro for their work. No matter what kind of criticism men in our business get on Twitter, it can’t approach the stay-out-of-the-man’s-world stuff women in the business get.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
So much to digest.
I owe you more. It’s coming.
In Wednesday column.
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