NFC East: Tom Ciskowski

IRVING, Texas -- In what could have been described as a subtle change in how the Dallas Cowboys do business, Tom Ciskowski was able to get pro personnel assignments taken off his plate so he could concentrate on college players and prepare the NFL draft board and Will McClay was asked to take over the pro scouting duties as the new assistant director of player personnel.

Ciskowski was in charge of both areas until this spring, when the Jones family decided to split the duties. Ciskowski is the director of scouting and McClay is the assistant director of player personnel.

McClay has made an impact, especially in the past 48 hours.

Earlier in the summer McClay was able to get the Cowboys to sign George Selvie and Nick Hayden, two free-agent defensive linemen who might start Week 1 because of injuries to starters Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff.

Then, on the eve of the regular season, the Cowboys made a flurry of deals in which they picked up draft picks through trades involving defensive tackle Sean Lissemore and tight end Dante Rosario. The team also claimed special-teams player Kyle Bosworth and acquired defensive ends Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford in trades.

This isn’t to say Ciskowski wouldn't have made these deals, but the desperate nature of the team on the defensive line and the special-teams problems in the preseason fueled some of these decisions.

"I give Will a lot of credit and I don’t want to be negative toward Tom because some years [trades] present themselves," Cowboys executive director Stephen Jones said. "Tom had a lot on his plate trying to do college and pro and I think we decided, just like we’re doing a lot of things different, let's try to get better, let's divide up the role and let's get more out of both of them."

The switch also allows Ciskowski to scout more college teams and not worry about NFL teams.

McClay's background is diverse. From his time as an Arena Football League coach for the now-folded Dallas Desperados, he gained knowledge about Rayford, who used to play in the league. McClay also was an assistant director of pro scouting for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001.

Ciskowski is a solid judge of college talent. Last year, the Indianapolis Colts wanted to interview him for their then-vacant GM gig. The Cowboys denied him the opportunity to do so because they value him.

So far this offseason, the Cowboys' changes in the personnel department have looked good.

"They’re important 365 days out of the year," coach Jason Garrett said. "We have pro personnel guys. We have college scouts and those guys do a fantastic job, really scouring the landscape to help us find the best players, guys who fit in to what we want to do on offense, defense and throughout our football team. And it’s really important for them to understand and know the league as you’re cutting your team down."

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 31, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: decision-makers.

Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones remains the most hands-on owner in the NFL, as reflected by his title of general manager. That makes him more directly responsible for the Cowboys’ draft choices than a typical owner would be. Jones solicits and seems to value input from scouts and coaches. The group has been together long enough for individuals to have a good feel for one another. Tom Ciskowski, who took over the top scouting job after Jeff Ireland left for the Miami Dolphins, has been with the organization since 1992. Coach Jason Garrett, who helped make the call on drafting Felix Jones in 2008, has been with the Cowboys since 2005. Their voices matter, but Jones is the dominant personality in the organization. He makes the call and everyone knows it.

New York Giants

General manager Jerry Reese is the driving force behind the Giants’ draft decisions. He’s methodical and disciplined in his approach, as are the Giants. The team has had only three GMs since George Young first held the job in 1979. Reese has been with the organization since 1994 and has served in the GM role since replacing Ernie Accorsi before the 2007 season. The Giants’ decision to promote Reese following Accorsi’s retirement allowed them to maintain continuity and stability. Winning a Super Bowl following Reese’s first season as GM served as validation. The Giants seem to have a good thing going with Reese and coach Tom Coughlin working together.

Philadelphia Eagles

Coach Andy Reid remains the Eagles’ primary decision-maker on personnel matters. Like any coach, Reid relies upon his personnel department to do the legwork. Unlike most coaches, Reid makes the final decision on draft choices and has done so since his hiring in 1999. The Eagles’ personnel team has evolved in recent seasons. Tom Heckert, the Eagles’ personnel chief through most of Reid’s run as head coach, left to become the Cleveland Browns’ GM following the 2009 season. The Eagles promoted Howie Roseman as Heckert’s successor, a move that maintained continuity. Team president Joe Banner remains influential, but Reid makes the call.

Washington Redskins

Coach Mike Shanahan has more power than any Redskins coach since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999. He has wielded that power over defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and flexed it repeatedly in his handling of quarterback Donovan McNabb. Shanahan is the boss and everyone knows it. Snyder has taken a lower profile as a result. Bruce Allen, son of former legendary Redskins coach George Allen, has served as general manager since replacing Vinny Cerrato late in the 2009 season. He brings administrative expertise to the front office. This is Shanahan’s show, however.

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 14, 2010
NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: the decision-makers.

Dallas Cowboys

Everyone knows that owner/general manager Jerry Jones makes the final call in the draft room. But he receives plenty of input from son Stephen and the highly underrated director of scouting, Tom Ciskowski. If there are a couple of safeties the Cowboys are torn between, Jones might send for secondary coach Dave Campo. But in the end, Jones makes the final call. In '08, he turned to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to get a final opinion on whether running back Felix Jones was the right pick ahead of Rashard Mendenhall, who eventually went to the Steelers. At the time, the Cowboys were in need of a complementary back to Marion Barber. Jones is actually a good listener, but he's making the final decision. When Bill Parcells was head coach from '03-'06, there was obviously a different dynamic. He had far more say than Wade Phillips currently has in the draft room.

New York Giants

Coach Tom Coughlin has a strong voice in the draft room, but general manager Jerry Reese is making the final call. Reese has a ton of trust in his scouting department, so he lets them do a lot of talking. But the mild-mannered former scout doesn't have any problem making a decision. Reese has a strong vision of what he's looking for in a player. And he almost never reaches. The Giants hit on a lot of picks late in the draft, in part, because Reese takes so much pride in the second day of the draft. Now that will be the third day in the draft, and he'll have more of an opportunity to re-set the board.

Philadelphia Eagles

Coach Andy Reid is the main decision-maker, but he gets a lot of input from president Joe Banner and new general manager Howie Roseman. Reid was always Donovan McNabb's biggest defender, but obviously he came around to thinking it was time to move the veteran quarterback. Reid's one of the few coaches in the league with final authority in the draft room. He's very respectful, though, of his scouting department and doesn't often try to trump them with impulsive decisions. Reid has a clear vision of what type of player he hopes to produce. He lets the scouts bring him the best value and then he normally goes along with their recommendations. Some would argue that Reid has too much on his plate. But this is the way he prefers to work. And for now, owner Jeff Lurie's not looking to change that dynamic.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan immediately became the most powerful head coach in the division. Coughlin and Reid have a lot of authority, but they don't wear it on their sleeves like Shanahan. He's made it clear that money's not an issue when it comes to dealing with belly-aching players such as Albert Haynesworth. Dan Snyder has stepped aside and given Shanahan the ultimate authority. Is that too much for one man to handle? Well, we're about to find out. Fortunately for Shanahan, Redskins general manager Bruce Allen seems to be a less impulsive personnel man. His expertise is in doing contracts and working with the salary cap, but he has enough gumption to challenge Shanahan on certain issues.

Wednesday Beastlines: Senior Bowl edition

January, 27, 2010
Let's take a quick look around the division this morning at all four teams. The Senior Bowl players were in full pads Tuesday, so let's see how things went:


Who will win the Shanahan sweepstakes?

November, 23, 2009
The Bills have a head start in the pursuit of former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan by virtue of firing coach Dick Jauron in the middle of the season, but surely Shanahan will wait for other suitors. For example, the Cowboys and Redskins could both be in the mix. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Shanahan already have a close relationship, so it might be a good fit.

Obviously the Redskins are going to cut ties with Jim Zorn at the end of the season and I'm sure Dan Snyder's willing to outbid just about anyone in the league for Shanahan. That's also Skins executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato's best hope of keeping his job. He and Shanahan worked together in San Francisco and reportedly have a solid rapport.

But the real reason I bring up Shanahan's name is because one of his former Broncos players, Shannon Sharpe, made this statement on CBS yesterday:

"Having played for [Shanahan] for seven years, if there is not a total commitment from the organization to win Super Bowls -- it is not about winning division titles or beating a particular team in that division -- if it is not about winning Super Bowls from players' standpoints and the coaches around them standpoint, you are wasting your time with Mike Shanahan because that is the only thing that matters to him -- winning championships."

That quote was brought to you via Barry Horn's Sports Media Blog. That description doesn't really make me think of the Bills organization. But does that sound like the Redskins and Cowboys to you guys? I think Jones would do just about anything to win another Super Bowl but you have to question his decision to stick with Wade Phillips after a disastrous ending to the '08 season. The fact that it was partly a financial decision makes you wonder if Jones would be willing to outbid his little buddy Snyder.

I think Dan Snyder truly wants to win a Super Bowl, but he just doesn't know how to go about getting one. And quite honestly, I'm not certain turning the entire football operation over to Shanahan is the best way to go. Shanahan's shown that he's one of the best in the league when it comes to assembling and running an offense. But it's not like his track record in drafting defensive players was stellar.

If I were Snyder, I'd take a look at some of the most talented personnel executives around the league. Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta should be on anyone's short list and Cowboys personnel guru Tom Ciskowski is one of the most underrated talent evaluators in the league, mainly because Jones prefers it that way. There's also a guy named Brian Gaine who's the assistant director of player personnel for the Dolphins. He's played a huge role in putting the Dolphins back on the map in a short period of time and he would carry the Bill Parcells stamp of approval.

I realize Redskins fans only want to hear about the big names right now, but you're not going to turn this mess around with a single hire. Snyder needs to have a Plan B in case the Shanahan thing doesn't work out. Snyder and Cerrato had to settle on Zorn because they ran out of candidates. They can't let that happen again.