“Boots on the ground.’’
That’s the phrase I was urged to use two years ago when the Dallas Cowboys (and other NFL teams) were investigating the friendship between La’el Collins and a woman murdered in Louisiana. Collins was never charged with a crime by law-enforcement officials and had nothing to do with the death of the acquaintance … and yet dropped complete out of the draft, and into the waiting arms of the Cowboys, who heavily recruited him and then signed the blue-chip O-lineman as an undrafted free agent who now starts at left guard.
And now along comes embattled NFL Draft prospect Gareon Conley, the cornerback from Ohio State, who stands accused of a sex crime in an April 9 incident involving a woman he met at a Cleveland nightclub.
The Cowboys’ response?
Boots on the ground as of 7 a.m. this morning.
And, as of noon, I'm told, a decision:
The red flag on Conley will not, in the eyes of the Cowboys front office, go away in time to pick him at No. 28 tonight.
Conley has spoken directly to a number of teams in an effort to clear his name, and yes, the Cowboys are interested in answers regarding a player with first-round talent, a player who was one of Dallas’ 30 Visits guys.
“These guys do their homework,” Conley attorney Kevin Spellacy told USA TODAY Sports on the eve of tonight’s NFL Draft. “Nothing in his background suggests this would ever happen, and you know why? Because it didn’t happen. Now what’s happening is their fans or somebody will resent that they drafted somebody who’s under scrutiny. That’s it.”
Indeed, two witnesses are telling police that there was no assault. And there is reportedly video tape from the hotel where the alleged assault occurred, tape that would reportedly clear the player. Additionally, before this incident, the Cowboys and the other 31 teams apparently found no behavioral red flags here.
That’s why, at one point, Conley ranked about as high as any cornerback in this draft, right there with Marshon Lattimore, somewhere above Kevin King and Adoree’ Jackson (two players that join a handful of edge-rushers as candidates to be taken at No. 28.)
What the NFL seeks most of all here, at this moment, is the result of the rape kit administered to the woman that night at a hospital.
That result will be telling. Defining. I don't know if we have that result yet. But I have a feel for Dallas' thoughts here.
Conley has released a statement calling the allegations “completely false.” But even if that is true — as it was with La’el Collins — some teams might opt to steer clear of any controversy, or might not have gathered their intel as completely as other teams.
And if that’s the case? If Gareon Conley (a top-15 talent) slips in the draft even while, say, the Cowboys, are convinced he’s guilty of no crime?The boots on the ground will have paid off. But the Cowboys' "boots'' haven't convinced themselves of "no red flags'' yet. So as of 2 p.m. on Draft Day? Gareon Conley is not going to be a candidate for Dallas with pick No. 28.