I started using the acronym on the radio about 25 years ago because it a) best explains my NFL Draft philosophy and b) it's funny to say on the radio.
"B.A.A.'' Say it with me!
The concept goes by many other names; that's not as important as a team making sure it sticks to the concept of "best available athlete'' -- and by "athlete,'' I don't mean a punter who runs fast. B.A.A. is "best available guy,'' "best available player,'' whatever, with a de-emphasis on what position a team thinks it needs filled and instead, a focus on simply choosing good players.
The Dallas Cowboys are lucky in the sense that Will McClay gets this.
“There’s a clear plan to try and improve the team overall," said personnel boss McClay on SiriusXM NFL Radio in advance of this week's Senior Bowl. "People are going to say 'defense.' I think coach (Rod) Marinelli did a wonderful job and for us to get to 13-3 and have the season that we did, it shows that we have talent there.
"We want to continue to improve that, but we don’t want to force anything.''
This seems like such an obvious concept and yet ...
Look way back in Dallas draft history. Shante Carver and Kavika Pittman ring a bell? The Cowboys "needed'' defensive ends so in 1994 and 1996, respectively, they used high picks on the position -- but never got high performance out of the players. So it hasn't always been "obvious'' to the teams, and the media doesn't seem to quite get it, either.
Consider this line from the Morning News regarding McClay's B.A.A. beliefs:
"Not many are going to like the words that are coming out of Will McClay's mouth ...''
I beg to differ. Anyone and everyone in Cowboys Nation who understands the best way to draft is absolutely loving McClay's words.
“I think one of the things that you learn is if you plan you’re going to get a player on this side of the ball then you force it,'' McClay said. "What we’re going to do is let the chips fall where they may. We’re going to grade and evaluate the players and we’re going to pick the right players for us. We have our objectives and goals in mind.
“We want to build depth, but we want to build a strong team, too."
This approach, combined with a commitment to "stay true to the board,'' is what netted Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott last year. The Cowboys didn't "need'' a running back. But Elliott topped their board, and if the No. 1 guy is available in the No. 4 spot? That's a fit.
McClay is central to all of this. Once again this offseason, other teams have made overtures at McClay, who officially is Dallas' "assistant director of player personnel.'' He could get a bigger title and more authority elsewhere. But, "Will is happy here,” COO Stephen Jones told reporters at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday. “There have been people who have been interested in him."
But McClay stays for at least another year ... and builds.
Now, back to the D.
None of the aforementioned philosophy ignores real concerns on the Dallas defense. Another 2016 draftee, Maliek Collins, is already a big help on this D. Charles Tapper, like Collins a D-lineman taken last year, didn't get to play in 2016 due to the pars defect in his back, but he's reporting he's now cleared to play. Defensive tackle Cedric Thornton underwent shoulder surgery this week, and that's not a big concern. But Tank Lawrence, the Cowboys say, is readying for a second back surgery in the last 13 months -- not a great sign. (Oh, and Randy Gregory is locked up inside the NFL drug-program prison, though the NFLPA might be working to force rules changes on his behalf.)
Meanwhile, while Dallas is hopeful that 2016 draftee Jaylon Smith is experiencing the firing of the nerve that will allow him to debut this year, management also knows that defensive backs Barry Church, Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne and JJ Wilcox are hitting free agency.
"All those are guys we'd like to sign,'' COO Stephen Jones said. "(But) you don't get to sign them all back.''
You also aren't likely to go sign some $100-million pass-rusher in free agency. So the hunger to find that sort of talent naturally takes us back to the NFL Draft.
"Where we're going to be picking (28th overall), I think we can improve our team in several areas on each side of the ball, but particularly on the defensive side," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday from Mobile, home of the Senior Bowl. "There are going to be some players there, and we have several places that we can basically add to some good players we've got there now.
Oh-oh. Jerry, are you listening to Will McClay or not?
"It's fair to say that we'll be looking defensively,'' Jerry concluded. "But, as we know, that's not necessarily what shows up. Our team would benefit from good players anywhere."
Yes. Jerry is listening to Will McClay ... who is cooing "B.A.A.'' in the owner's ear.