With Tyron Smith, Jerry Jones Finally Resisted the Glitz

And with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select...

Pat McQuistan?

Hardly. But upon the arrival at Valley Ranch of their new first-round pick, the Cowboys showered Tyron Smith not with a red-carpet welcome fit for Kate Middleton, but rather an old No. 77 jersey branded with "McQuistan," the last name of the former seventh-round draft choice cast off to the Miami Dolphins.

"I don't know," Smith shrugged when quizzed about the jersey bearing another player's name. "Guess it's the only one they had laying around."

Though the Cowboys had a "Smith" No. 77 jersey handy for photo ops, it wasn't suitable for his 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame. The lack of attention to detail sent a refreshing message: For the first time in a long time, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones coveted substance over style and calm over catalytic.

Embrace the sensibility.

In the wake of show-stopping, franchise-altering deals for Joey Galloway and Terrell Owens and Roy Williams and Pacman Jones, we know Jones is clinically addicted to wow. He cherishes the spotlight. Yearns for sizzle. He realizes—perhaps better than any other owner in the history of the NFL—that pizzazz may even trump points when it comes to selling luxury suites.

But with the carnival barker devil again yapping on his shoulder in last week's NFL Draft, Jones muted temptation and did the right thing. Smith, the 20-year-old offensive lineman from Southern Cal, wasn't the sexiest name on the board—not with Auburn's Nick Fairley and Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram still available. But he was the best name on the board.

When the Jacksonville Jaguars called Jones and made him an offer—a first- and second-round pick in order to move up from 16th to Dallas' No. 9 position—Jones got the itch. Then he recalled last year's 6-10 record. The image of quarterback Tony Romo sprawled on Cowboys Stadium's turf with a season-ending broken collarbone. And he peered into his team's future with an aging, hobbled offensive line.

The team that never says "no" declined Jacksonville's offer, selected Smith and immediately became a better football team.

"We did something different, at least from my perspective, in that we didn't do any trading," Jones said after not orchestrating a deal for the first time in 11 years. "We had a heck of a trade we could've done with the first pick. But I'm very pleased we used that pick, didn't make the trade and that we have Tyron Smith."

It's almost as though the NFL lockout banned the real Jerry from Dallas' war room, because Jones uncharacteristically took the safe route. Did the sensible thing. Dare I say, the Cowboys drafted boring over boffo.

In a closely related story, the Cowboys haven't drafted a Hall of Famer since Emmitt Smith in 1990, and their current quarterback (Tony Romo) and leading receiver (Miles Austin) were signed as bargain-basement free agents. Some of the biggest culprits in the Cowboys' drought—one playoff win since 1996—are 21st century top draft picks named Jason Williams, Felix Jones, Anthony Spencer, Bobby Carpenter, Julius Jones, Quincy Carter and Dwayne Goodrich.

Last weekend's haul included a potential upgrade at running back in Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, a player who could thankfully make Marion Barber expendable. Ideally second-round pick Bruce Carter, though sidelined by a torn knee ligament, will eventually shove over-the-hill linebacker Keith Brooking out of a job. And in the fifth round, Dallas attempted to address its deficiency in the secondary, though former Cedar Hill High School star Josh Thomas had only two interceptions in four years as a starting cornerback at the University of Buffalo. With free agency still uncertain as the league's labor trouble navigates the legal system, a Cowboys defense coming off its worst season ever must be addressed. Only two of the draft's eight picks were used on defense, the lowest number since 1962.

The immediate impact on a team coming off the most disappointing season in franchise history, a 6-10 season that got head coach Wade Phillips fired? The possible, if not probable, departures of Barber, Rog Williams, running back Tashard Choice and offensive linemen Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis.

And one new starter—Smith, the player so good he at least temporarily scrambled Jones' DNA. With Smith on his porch, Jones, who made six trades on draft day 2008, fought off the natural instinct to heighten the degree of difficulty and sneak him in the window. Instead, he merely opened the front door.

"There were opportunities there," Jones admitted, "but I didn't want to risk losing this player."

Most experts rated Smith over Nate Solder of Colorado and Boston College's Anthony Castonzo but identified minimal differences among the offensive linemen's attributes. If so, the Cowboys should have traded down with Jacksonville, snagged an extra pick and still been able to select a quality lineman in the first round.

Jones, however, said the Cowboys had Smith rated as their No. 5 overall best player in the draft, well ahead of Solder and Castonzo.

Asked if the difference in players created unwarranted risk when pondering the trade, Jones responded adamantly: "Yes. Too much. Way too much."

Look back at Cowboys Super Bowl teams and there are constants, such as legendary coaches (Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson) and Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman) and, yes, stalwart left tackles (Ralph Neely and Mark Tuinei). The Cowboys believe Smith will be a Super Bowl-caliber player at one of the sport's most important positions.

"We feel like he has the upside to be one of the great players in this league," head coach Jason Garrett said.

And to think, just 16 years ago the kid was cleaning office buildings. At 4 his family had him helping out with odd jobs, emptying trash cans and anything else to help make ends meet.

"It was a struggling lifestyle," Smith said of his childhood in California.

After blossoming into a star at Rancho Verde High School, Smith played 10 games as a backup left tackle for USC as a freshman. With 24 college starts under his belt he then skipped his senior season, made himself eligible for the draft and announced his arrival as a Cowboy thusly:

"I think I can be in the Pro Bowl," Smith said minutes after his selection by Dallas, "and the Hall of Fame."

Said offensive line coach Hudson Houck, "If he's not in the Pro Bowl then I've screwed him up big time."

Tyron—it's pronounced "TIE-run"—has Emmitt's blood lines (the running back is Tyron's grandfather's nephew), Rayfield Wright's athleticism, Larry Allen's motor, no affinity for flashy jewelry and a spot all but locked up opposite Doug Free on the offensive line. He's not a player who can single-handedly bring a Super Bowl, but one who will for years help keep Romo upright and the Cowboys from 6-10.

It's not in the handbook of daring or the history of Dallas, but for once Jones stuck to his draft board and simply drafted the best player available.

Smith appears to be the right pick.

Boring never looked better.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt