As he sat in his team's war room early last Saturday afternoon,
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was three minutes from NFL
heaven--or three minutes from a major draft-day blunder. "Carl,"
Jones, phone to his ear, barked to Kansas City Chiefs president
Carl Peterson, "talk to me."
Because they had given up two No. 1 picks to acquire wideout Joey
Galloway from the Seattle Seahawks in February 2000, the Cowboys
hadn't had a first-round draft choice since 1999. Now Dallas was
picking sixth, its highest position since selecting first (and
taking defensive tackle Russell Maryland) in '91, and Jones--who
had orchestrated mostly bad drafts since his ugly divorce from
coach Jimmy Johnson in '94--had just three minutes left to make a
choice. If the Cowboys didn't announce their pick in time, they
risked having the next team in order (the Minnesota Vikings) jump
in and pick a player. "It's our most important draft in 10
years," Jones had said while driving to work on Saturday morning.
Here's where Jones stood at the three-minute warning: Dallas had
already fortified its defense through free agency by signing
tackle La'Roi Glover and linebacker Kevin Hardy, and it went into
the first round wanting either Texas's Quentin Jammer, the
top-rated corner, or Oklahoma's Roy Williams, the best safety to
come out of college football in years. Jammer went to the San
Diego Chargers with the fifth selection, but Williams was still
on the board, and Jones was ready to take him--but not before
trying to extract extra draft choices from one of the teams
picking just below Dallas.
The Cowboys were confident that the Vikings, picking seventh,
wouldn't take Williams. The Chiefs, selecting eighth, wanted
North Carolina defensive tackle Ryan Sims, whom the Vikings also
coveted, so Kansas City had offered Jones its third-rounder (the
75th pick) to swap places. Meanwhile, Jones was trying to cut a
deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, sitting at No. 9 and believed
to be interested in Miami tackle Bryant McKinnie. Jones told the
Jaguars that he would trade spots with them for their
second-round selection (40th overall).
April 28, 2002
As the clock ticked down toward two minutes, Peterson added a
seventh-rounder in 2003 to his offer. "Not enough," Jones said.
"Jerry," said fidgety coach Dave Campo, sitting to his right,
"let's just pick our guy."
The more than a dozen Dallas coaches, scouts and executives who'd
sat in this room for two weeks studying players and filling in
the draft board agreed with Campo that any move that might cost
them Williams was too risky. What if Minnesota traded down after
Dallas did, and another team slid in and stole Williams? "If I
miss out on Williams," Jones later recalled thinking as the clock
ticked down close to a minute, "I will be crucified. And I will
never live it down."
With 70 seconds left, he asked Jacksonville director of pro
scouting Fran Foley, "Can you do the two? We're about to close
The clock hit one minute. Foley stalled. Jones asked Peterson for
his final offer. The three this year, Peterson said, and next
year's sixth-rounder. Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer,
alarmed that it was taking so long to complete the deal, snapped,
"What's a third-rounder? Get it done!" Offensive coordinator
Bruce Coslet, loving the poker game, said, "Roll the dice, baby!
Roll the dice! Keep going."
Forty seconds. Foley said no. Jones picked up the line to
Peterson. Calm on the outside but roiling inside, Jones slammed
his pen on the table. "Carl, let's go. Turn the trade in."
Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones, Jerry's son, went
to the corner of the war room to tell college scouting
coordinator Chris Hall to have the team's representatives at the
draft inform the NFL of the trade. "You have to call New York,
Stephen! [Our guys at the draft] can't do it up there!" Hall
said. Stephen turned and bolted for a phone, nearly knocking
Campo out of his chair. Reaching league trade coordinator Joel
Bussert, he started to lay out the deal.
Just 20 seconds were left on the clock. As Stephen Jones quickly
went over the trade twice with Bussert, the war room went silent.
Unless Dallas finished notifying the NFL of the deal by the time
the clock ran out, Minnesota could submit a card with its pick to
the league. The TV was on, tuned to ESPN's draft coverage.
"Minnesota's turning in a card!" cried someone in the room. Added
director of public relations Rich Dalrymple, "Minnesota just
rushed to the podium!"
Oh, no, Jerry Jones thought.
"This is a dangerous move by the Cowboys!" said ESPN analyst
Jimmy Johnson. (Yes, that Jimmy Johnson.) Stephen Jones hung up
the phone and said, "Joel says we have a deal."
On the TV screen Sims was shown celebrating with his family.
Watching from his home in Oklahoma, Williams felt betrayed.
Dallas had said it would take him. What had happened? "Minnesota
just jumped up and took Sims!" Dalrymple said.
Actually, the trade had gone through, and a Kansas City draft
representative in New York had been waiting at the NFL desk with
a card reading RYAN SIMS as the time ran out. When NFL
commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the deal and said that
Kansas City had picked Sims, the Cowboys' war room erupted.
Stephen Jones kissed scouting director Larry Lacewell on the
cheek. A chuckling Jerry Jones told Peterson, "I'm like that
option quarterback. I don't pitch till the last second." The
Vikings, unable to land Sims, picked McKinnie. A hoarse Campo
phoned Williams and yelled, "Roy, you got that star on your
helmet now, baby!"
The draft is a ridiculously inexact science. In his kitchen on
Saturday morning, Jones had mapped out his ideal day. Dallas
could move down in the first round from six to 10--and acquire a
couple of extra picks--if the Cincinnati Bengals, selecting 10th,
wanted to move up to take Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington.
Then the Cowboys would take Williams or, if he was gone, Miami
cornerback Phillip Buchanon (box, page 40). Dallas also had an
offer to trade its second- and third-round picks to the 49ers for
San Francisco's first-round selection, 27th overall. Jones would
parlay that pick plus the two he hoped to get from Cincinnati
along with a couple of lower choices for an additional selection
in the top half of the first round. That would allow the Cowboys
to pick Miami tight end Jeremy Shockey, who was coveted by the
division rival New York Giants.
How differently things turned out. But that's the fun of the
draft. Jones's dream didn't pan out, yet Dallas had arguably the
best first day of any team. Give Jones his due. He and his staff
assigned first-round grades to 29 players in the draft class of
2002. They reeled in three of them. The Cowboys rated Williams
the fourth-best player in the draft. They had Pitt wideout
Antonio Bryant--whose stock dropped because of a pair of practice
suspensions and a me-first reputation--19th on their board and
plucked him 63rd, acquiring him late in the second round after a
trade with the Chicago Bears. They ranked mountainous Colorado
guard Andre Gurode 28th and drafted him 37th. In addition, they
got their third-rated corner, Ohio State's Derek Ross, in the
You can question Jones for the recent investments he has made in
quarterbacks, which prevented him from going after Harrington.
Last year he bypassed linebacker Kendrell Bell--who would become
the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Pittsburgh
Steelers--to take Quincy Carter, and in January, Jones doled out a
$3.1 million signing bonus on rusty free agent Chad Hutchinson, a
former Stanford signal-caller who has been playing minor league
baseball for the past four years. Jones has been plagued by lousy
drafting: Only two of the 66 players selected by Dallas since
Johnson left have made the Pro Bowl. But you have to credit Jones
for what he did last Saturday. And for his patience.
On April 1 Jones took a party of 16 to Austin on his plane for a
private workout with Jammer. The group included backup
quarterback Clint Stoerner and two receivers. Unbeknownst to
Jones, Jammer's agent had invited the Chiefs to the workout. The
Cowboys weren't happy. Jones just about wanted to punch Peterson
in the nose when the big Chief asked, "Hey, Jerry, can we use
your quarterbacks and receivers for our workout?" But instead of
making a scene, Jones let Stoerner throw a few passes Jammer's
way. Then the two teams pulled off the trade on Saturday.
One more story of Jones as a smart negotiator: Searching for a
trading partner so he could get Bryant, Jones hung up with 49ers
vice president Bill Walsh early on Saturday night believing he'd
acquired the 61st pick. So excited were the Cowboys that they
called Bryant to tell him he would be coming to Dallas. A couple
of minutes later Jones called San Francisco to confirm the deal,
only to hear Walsh say that he'd gotten a better offer. "He
agreed to it," Jones said angrily after hanging up. "That's
horse----." When the Cowboys looked to move up in the third
round for Ross, someone asked Jones if he was willing to call
the 49ers, six picks north of them. "Oh, I'll talk to them,"
Jones said. "If I stopped talking to everyone who screwed me, I
wouldn't have many folks to talk to." (Dallas stood pat but
still got Ross.)
That's a good attitude to have in this league, where your
competition is looking to stick it to you at almost every turn.
Last Saturday, for the first time since their glory years, the
Cowboys had a draft day to remember. It came not a moment too
"If I miss out on Williams," Jones recalled thinking as the
seconds dwindled, "I will be crucified. And I will never live it