Cowboys' Draft Mindset? It's In The 'B.A.G.'

IRVING, Tex. -- The criticism of the Cowboys' owner around NFL Draft time makes it seems like if Jerry Jones signed up for MySpace, even "Tom'' wouldn't be his friend.

But there are signs, positive signs, that in this season of acquisition, Dallas understands the least fallible of all personnel philosophies:

"Use free agency for need, use the draft for talent.''

I ran that tried-and-true concept by a member of the Cowboys' organization this weekend and got a forceful thumbs-up. My man pointed at the Cowboys' three most notable FA signings (offensive lineman Leonard Davis, safety Ken Hamlin and backup QB Brad Johnson) as evidence that the club is trying to fill needs with known quantities. Davis, it can be argued, is a risk only because of the big bucks involved. But he is, despite criticism for underachieving, at the very least an established NFL starter who at either guard or tackle plugs a Cowboy hole. Hamlin is just 26, not far removed from being an important starter on Seattle's Super Bowl team, and jumps right in at the free safety position, the only true hole on the Dallas defense. And Johnson takes over a job that up until the 2006 in-season switch from Bledsoe to Romo had been manned by a series of quarterbacks who were anything but "known quantities.''

Davis, Hamlin and Johnson. Homework was done. All Davis has to do is walk into a room and you want him on your line. Hamlin is an old Razorback, and you know the Joneses know their Razorbacks. And Johnson is Jason Garrett's boy. So we know what they can do. A good thing.

By taking that approach in the acquisition of veterans, the Cowboys have freed themselves in the NFL Draft to take any player, at any position, who is left atop their board.

"I know everybody says that, 'Best Available Athlete' and all that,'' my inside-Valley Ranch friend says. "And it gets said so often it gets turned into a cliche. Or it becomes a philosophy that is misunderstood to mean that a team thinks it's so good that it doesn't have needs. We (the Cowboys) have both: needs to fill, and talent to collect.''

With all due respect to the amateur Draftniks and the ESPN experts and DFW newspaper people who are already issuing their assuredly-astute predictions, the Cowboys themselves haven't even come close to pinpointing who they'll select with the 22nd overall pick and beyond. So when Jerry says he "feel(s) good about our receivers,'' that doesn't mean Dallas isn't salivating over top-of-the-draft pass-catcher Calvin Johnson from Georgia Tech. Just because the Cowboys signed Hamlin shouldn't mean they overlook the talents of LSU safety LaRon Landry or Florida safety Reggie Nelson or Texas safety Michael Griffin. The Cowboys "really like'' Longhorns O-lineman Justin Blalock? I bet they like Wisconsin O-lineman Joe Thomas even more. Heck, I bet they like 'em both!

One expert is guessing that if Dallas "goes cornerback, they'll take Ross or Houston or Revis.''

Well, that narrows it right down!

The last time I checked, on a very early, mid-January, pre-Combine version of the Cowboys' Big Board, the top three names (in order) were:

1) LSU quarterback Russell, who draws comparisons to Daunte Culpepper;

2) Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, a potential Tom Brady;

3) Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, who one Cowboys scouting pal thinks is the closest thing he's ever seen to Bo Jackson.

It's safe to say the Cowboys "absolutely love'' those three players. (Yes, even Quinn, despite the likelihood he's slipped from their top three.) It gets a little murky after that.

The Cowboys don't know who they'll take, and therefore neither does Mel Kiper and neither do you. But this I know: The Cowboys shouldn't draft offense just because doing so has been a rarity; this year's selections should be influenced in no way by last year's. Nor should they stay away from drafting front-seven guys because they've collected so many of them -- they should simply draft for talent.

If some team believes Adrian Peterson is the next Bo Jackson or the next Jim Brown, that team should select him. ... regardless of whether they already employ a serviceable runner. I mean, how do you pass on Jim Brown?

Seriously, if the Cowboys scouting department becomes convinced that JaMarcus Russell is a surefire bet to become the next John Elway, they need to find a way to get him. ... Tony Romo's presence be damned!

Let me switch it up from "Best Available Athlete,'' because so many people over the years have misinterpreted that to think I mean Dallas should draft Carl Lewis, or Laila Ali. Let's make it B.A.G.

"Best Available Guy.'' B.A.G. Always. Period.

Doing otherwise, in its most infamous form, came for the Cowboys in 1994, when Larry Lacewell, Barry Switzer and Jerry Jones were so cocksure about the high-quality makeup of the roster that they went into the selection process actually thinking they NEEDED A BACKUP DEFENSIVE END. And after focusing far too intently on just two of them -- including Arizona State's Shante Carver -- they took the one left on the board at No. 23. It was Carver.

And by God, they got their BACKUP DEFENSIVE END.

This year, Jerry says, "I don't think we're locked in at any position to come out with. I can see us going secondary, offensive line, the whole gamut.''

"Whole gamut.'' That's good -- as long as it's Jerryspeak for "Top Guy On Our Board.'' Or "B.A.G.''

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