By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
New stadium. New station. Same starters.
Lots of reasons to be excited about the Dallas Cowboys in 2009. Jonestown Coliseum will be the world's coolest sports venue. The team has moved to a 100,000-watt flagship radio station—KRLD-105.3 FM The Fan—insuring that night games can be heard outside of downtown. Terrell Owens will be dropping passes and dividing locker rooms in (giggle) Buffalo.
But not on the list of this season's highly anticipated debuts: The...y-a-w-n...rookie class.
The Cowboys last weekend drafted:
A small-school player (Jason Williams) who starred at a position that doesn't exist and wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
A Texas A&M quarterback (Stephen McGee) whose best passes went backward.
Two fourth-round linebackers (Victor Butler and Brandon Williams) with neither the size to play inside nor the speed to play outside in the NFL.
On a team blessed with Mat McBriar and Nick Folk, a kicker (David Buehler).
At this point in the proceedings let me remind you that the Cowboys are not a Super Bowl champion tweaking and refining a roster saturated with career-peaking talent. In fact, the last time we saw them— December 28—they were grand underachievers, officially splatting from Super Bowl aspirations by quitting in a humiliating 44-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Listen to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and he'll tell you this draft was a success because it generated roster depth, improved special teams and created salary-cap flexibility. But there's no denying it was one of the most boring—and potentially bad—days in team history.
On the first day of the draft, the Cowboys chose, um, no one. Despite owning 11 picks, Dallas couldn't envision any player in the first two rounds helping its 9-7, non-playoff outfit?
With only one high pick—thanks to last October's acquisition of Roy Williams—they traded out of the second round, the equivalent of dabbing liquid paper on a marshmallow and settling in to watch it dry. Then last Sunday, though armed with 12 picks, Dallas managed to avoid selecting a single player that will start in 2009.
"It's hard to be excited for a fan," admitted Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones at a post-draft press conference at Valley Ranch. "But it's not hard for us to be excited. I'm sure it's difficult, and all you usually hear about are the first-day picks at best, and it's usually the first 15 picks that the fans know about. It's maybe not as much fun for them, but we're as excited as we've ever been for the draft. We couldn't be happier about what we've done."
While Dallas became the first city to produce three Top 10 picks in the NFL Draft—Highland Park's Matthew Stafford, W.T. White's Jason Smith and Carter's Michael Crabtree—the Cowboys chose a peculiar path that veered them further into oblivion.
In 1975 the franchise drafted 12 rookies that made the roster and played in Super Bowl X. But there is no Randy White, Hollywood Henderson or Bob Breunig in this year's crop. It is truly a Dirty Dozen, destined to make new special teams coach Joe DeCamillis happy but unlikely to make the Cowboys special.
I'm not just saying this because, like you, I hadn't heard of most of Dallas' draftees. (Larry Allen, anyone?) Take 40 years of draft history, combine common sense, blend gently in Mel Kiper's hair helmet and you'll arrive at this pillar of picking: The higher the choice, the better chance the player is good.
Jerry Jones sold us quantity over quality. "We went into this draft with a lot of picks and had the mindset of getting more picks if the opportunity of increasing the value of our positions presented itself," he said.
After the trade down into the third round—which stripped Dallas of a first-day pick for the first time in Jones' reign—the Cowboys' first choice (69th overall) wound up being its lowest since 1980.
The selection: Jason Williams. Who?
Turns out he played at Western Illinois as a stand-up inside linebacker close to the line of scrimmage, conjuring up images of Wade Phillips customizing his 3-4 defense into a 3-3 alignment. Williams, who forced 14 fumbles during his career, made up for his Scouting Combine shun by running two 4.4 40-yard dashes for scouts.
Best-case scenario: He's an upgrade from Kevin Burnett who excels on special teams and takes over when Keith Brooking retires in two seasons. Worst-case: He sucks worse than Bobby Carpenter.
Said Phillips, "I think he'll be an instant impact on our special teams."
Confirmed Williams in a post-draft conference call, "They talked to me already about playing special teams."
Goose bumps yet?
Hold on, it gets milder.
Second pick Robert Brewster is slated to play guard, though at Ball State he played in a passing offense never requiring him to have his hand on the ground. And then there's McGee, the first quarterback drafted by the Cowboys since Quincy Carter. He started only three games as a senior for the Aggies and played almost exclusively in an option, run-oriented offense that necessitated most of his "passes" being delivered underhanded.
The Cowboys also drafted a kicker who can bench-press 225 pounds 25 times, both starting cornerbacks from the University of Cincinnati (DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens) and a TCU safety (Stephen Hodge) they plan to morph into a linebacker. Barring a depth-chart-decimating outbreak of swine flu, it's difficult to imagine any of the picks cracking the starting lineup when Dallas takes the field September 13 in Tampa.
You know how you know when you've had a blah draft? When the centerpiece photo on Dallas' Only Daily is McGee, a fourth-round quarterback you hope like hell never sees the field in 2009.
It's fine that Jones wants to infiltrate the bottom of his roster with minimum-wage rookies—affording him more money to re-sign veterans such as DeMarcus Ware—but while he was drafting on the cheap the NFC East rival Eagles were adding two blue-chip, first-day offensive weapons (Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin and Pitt running back LeSean McCoy).
While the Cowboys' draft was more sham than wow, the future of their radio broadcasts will include wow and Sham. (Full disclosure: I often appear on 105.3 The Fan on Sunday mornings.)
After spending the last three years on a weak-signaled, monster-ratings station (KTCK-1310 AM The Ticket) that didn't limit its comedic references to the gays and Cowboys in Brokeback Mountain, the Cowboys have returned to the CBS family that for years was its partner via KRLD-1080 AM and KVIL-103.7 FM.
"I'm excited about The Fan's signal," Jones said at an earlier press conference. "At the end of the day, this is all about accessibility for our fans."
In an unprecedented 10-plus-year contract in which no checks were written—it's all advertising revenue-sharing—Jones announced that The Fan would also launch a 24-hour HD Radio Cowboys station filled with past Super Bowl broadcasts and original content. Game-day announcers Brad Sham, Babe Laufenberg and Kristi Scales are also likely to return.
Joked CBS senior vice president David Henry of the Cowboys' streak of 13 seasons without a playoff win, "We're gonna change that. I blame the past on The Ticket."
If not his roster, at least Jones' radio should be stronger next season.