Chomping On the Chum

IRVING, TX -- We call it "chum.'' Like a fisherman trying to trick the shark by bloodying the water with buckets and buckets of tasty treats dumped into the water, the pre-draft Cowboys like to dump buckets and buckets of tasty rumors into the water, just to see who gets distracted, who gets tricked, who bites.

"The Cowboys are trading up for Michael Huff?''

Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!

The Tuesday signing of veteran free safety Marcus Coleman to a one-year contract -- predicted by long ago, largely because of his rep as a Parcells Guy in good standing -- followed almost immediately the "scoop'' that Dallas was engineering its way up from No. 18 to hook Huff, the U. of Texas safety who is the draft's best player at his position.

Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!

How did this happen? Because while one branch of the Cowboys machine was doing its job by dropping Huff-related chum as a way to fill a safety need, another branch of the Cowboys machine was doing its job by dropping dollars on Coleman to fill that same need.

This has become a Jerry Jones specialty, and the media and fans -- starved for some bloody fishheads -- can't help but gobble it up. As I go back through 16 years of Cowboys-covering notes, I believe "disinformation'' became a key part of the Cowboys' draft strategy in the spring of 1992. That's when they:

1) Invited two dozen potential draftees to Valley Ranch, making a huge production of announcing the names of the VIP guests. A few days later, an assistant coach handed me a list with half of those invitees names on it. Who were these one dozen guys? People Dallas was legitimately interested in.

And the guys not on the list?

Guys the Cowboys truly DID NOT LIKE. ... but guys the Cowboys wanted the rest of the league believe they did like.

2) Tried -- but failed -- to keep their desire to trade up to get Terrell Buckley with the fifth overall pick. We broke the story on Friday night: Dallas wanted to move up to the Packers spot to take the No. 1 cornerback in the draft. We had the thing sourced every which way.

Nailed. The Buckley thing didn't work, so Dallas settled for Texas A&M's Kevin Smith. And then Jimmy Johnson went nuts in the press conference, trying to discount the Buckley story that, meanwhile, was being confirmed ON THE RECORD by others at Valley Ranch.

Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!

Now, it is possible that Dallas wants to assemble at one position Coleman, Keith Davis (retained when the Cowboys matched a New Orleans two-year offer) and Huff, all to compete for one job alongside the already highly-paid Roy Williams, Terence Newman and Anthony Henry in the secondary?

Um, no.

The Cowboys would be wise to keep their eye on the "best-athlete-available'' prize. But while before Tuesday, coach Bill Parcells' instruction to the scouting staff was to pinpoint potential first-rounders at offensive tackle, linebacker and safety, after Tuesday, it seems the importance of drafting a safety can be knocked down a peg. (That goes not only for Huff in the first round, but another guy some Cowboys people smile about, a first-round value who might not go until Round 2, Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams.)

So we're left with Jones announcing, "We might trade up.''

And then a week later telling a reporter on the sly, "We might trade down.''

And then, a week later, a leak from Jones: "We might stay at 18.''

There is a method to this madness. The Cowboys -- and every other team -- are trying to one-up the competition. Puffing a smokescreen so other NFL teams can't determine what you're doing is critical to a team "controlling'' the draft as much as possible.

Dumping the chum. Buckets of it.

Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!

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