One of the most interesting parts of Don Van Natta Jr.’s big ESPN profile of Jerry Jones is that the Dallas Cowboys owner desperately wanted to draft Johnny Manziel.
“I get madder, every day, about missin’ him,” Jones told Van Natta last summer.
Manziel was available when the Cowboys went on the clock with the 16th pick. Jones wanted to take him, everyone else in the team’s draft room didn’t. They ended up taking Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin.
Jones said that not rolling the dice on Manziel went against everything that made him rich in the first place:
“There’s only one thing I wanna say — I’d have never bought the Cowboys had I made the kinda decision that I just made right now. You need to drive across the water rather than lay up. And we laid up for this one. … We just didn’t get here makin’ this kind of decision.”
Cowboys brass was able to talk Jones out of gambling on Manziel, and convinced him to take a player with 0.0001% of the star power.
It turned out to be a brilliant move. It may not have been the type of gamble that Jones made when he bought the Cowboys for $US151 million, but picking Martin over Manziel was one of the best personnel decisions of Jones’ career.
Martin has been one of the best guards in the league as a rookie. He made the Pro Bowl, and probably would have been a top-five pick if they did the draft over again. ProFootballFocus graded him as the second-best pass blocker at his position, and he has played a huge part in turning Dallas’ running game into one of the best units in the league.
Dallas was third in rushing attempts and second in rushing yards per game this year. They have been so good because they have invested heavily in the offensive line. They used first-round draft picks on Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, and paid big money to keep the unit together.
Drafting Martin was consistent with how the Cowboys had been building their team over the last three years. It was the final move in construction the best offensive line in the NFL.
While Martin was destroying defenders on his way to a Pro Bowl-calibre season, Manziel struggled for the Cleveland Browns. He didn’t get off the bench until Week 15 against the Bengals, when he looked so overmatched that some in the NFL world wrote him off entirely. A week later a hamstring injury ended his season.
It’s way too early to declare Manziel a bust. But it’s clear that the learning curve was steeper for him than expected, and if he’s going to blossom into a solid NFL starter, it’s going to take a few seasons.
Even if Manziel had been ready to play immediately, one of the biggest reasons the Cowboys considered drafting him — Tony Romo’s health — has been a non-factor. At the time of the draft, Romo had just gone through back surgery and at age 34 there was understandable concern that he would never been the same.
Instead, he had his best season ever. During the regular season he led the league in total QBR, set career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and QB rating, and threw the fewest interception of his career. He played like one of the five best quarterbacks in the league.
Manziel would have never even seen the field in Dallas. Not with how well Romo played.
Jones seems himself as a riverboat gambler. He succeeded this time by making the safe bet.
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