IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones refused to acknowledge that he's given up on Roy Williams, but his actions in Thursday's first prime-time draft pretty much confirmed that theory. Even after moving up three spots in the first round to take the top wide receiver in the draft, Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, Jones insisted that Williams would be the starter in 2010.
I'd give that until at least Week 2 of the season. The Cowboys had more pressing needs on their roster than wide receiver, but in the end, Bryant's value at No. 24 was too much to ignore. Jones claimed that Bryant was one of the top-10 players on the Cowboys' board -- and I believe him because I've talked to other scouts around the league. The wide receiver dropped into the 20s because he had considerable baggage, not the least of which is he's using the same advisers who helped guide Michael Crabtree into a holdout last fall.
And there's this little thing about Bryant being habitually late to meetings. In scouting parlance, Bryant had some "life skills" issues. That's why Bryant would've been too much of a risk in the top 10, but Jones was comfortable taking him at No. 24. Jones joked that a fellow Arkansas native who ended up in the Oval Office also had an issue with punctuality.
“It’s no concern,” said Bryant. “I felt like all those things happened my freshman year, and I looked up to the older guys and I matured from them and I matured from my coaches. My sophomore year, my junior year, I felt like those years went well. And from there, things were just great.”
Jones and coach Wade Phillips danced around a barrage of Williams-related questions. Reporters wanted to know if they'd reached out to the receiver to offer reassurance. Phillips said he had a team meeting this week to tell all his players not to be concerned about the players selected in the draft. I'm not sure that will do the trick.
Jones had spent the offseason saying it would be highly unlikely for the Cowboys to draft a wide receiver in the first round, so you knew there was at least a chance. He admitted Thursday that his top targets in the first round were Texas safety Earl Thomas, Idaho guard Mike Iupati and Bryant. Thomas and Iupati were off the board by No. 17, but Bryant continued to fall. When Denver moved up to No. 22, Jones started to feel uneasy. The Broncos took Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, but Jones said he was already "twitchy" at that point.
The Packers took Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga and then Jones knew it was time to make his move. He knew the Ravens were likely to take Bryant at No. 25, so he traded first-round picks with the Patriots at No. 24 and sent them a third-round pick (No. 90 overall). The Cowboys also received a fourth-round pick in return (119).
The Cowboys certainly needed depth along the offensive line or a safety a lot more than a wide receiver, but they think Bryant is a rare talent.
“We saw it coming, so we didn’t have to hesitate or be apprehensive about it,” said Jones. “We felt pretty strongly that we should go on in there and get him when we did.”
A lot of people will write that Jones went after Bryant because of his regret over not taking Randy Moss in the first round 12 years ago. Jones said too much was being made of that angle. And it’s not fair to compare Bryant to Moss, who had a criminal record when he entered the league. From the start of the scouting process, I was told that Bryant was essentially a good kid. Of course, it didn’t help his cause that he lied to the NCAA about a meeting with former Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders last summer and had to miss most of his junior season at Oklahoma State.
Jones made it clear he wouldn’t devote “extra resources” to monitoring Bryant when he’s away from the building. He was very clear that he expected Bryant to show up on time, pointing out that practices wouldn’t be planned around the wide receiver.
For Williams, Thursday was yet another setback. There’s no way he can feel good about his future with the club despite the $13 million in guaranteed money coming his way in 2010.
The bottom line is that the Cowboys would not have taken Bryant if Williams had come anywhere close to meeting expectations. On Thursday night, the Cowboys began planning for life without him.