NFC East: Will McClay

IRVING, Texas -- Will McClay, the Cowboys assistant director of player personnel, said he was pleased that Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones gave him and his staff an "A" for the last week's NFL draft, but there is more work to be done.

"I think we had a good draft," McClay said Friday. "We put the plan together and the guys went out and did the work so that we could put together a good board and I think we had a good draft."

One of the keys to the draft was making sure the coaches and scouts were on the same page regarding prospective draft picks.

The Cowboys made a unanimous decision in selecting Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin with the No. 16 overall pick. The Cowboys valued Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, but he was taken at No. 15 by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And despite having Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as the highest-ranked player, the Cowboys bypassed him and made a football decision in snagging Martin.

"The coaches are looking sometimes for that guy that’s ready-made because they have to win right now," McClay said. "The scouts are looking for the future, the future of the organization, and you got to marry those two."
IRVING, Texas -- While he didn’t speak with reporters during the three days of the NFL draft, Will McClay’s name was mentioned quite a bit.

McClay, the Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, was given the task of putting the draft board together and making sure the coaches and scouts were on the same page in terms of personnel.

And the man who makes the final call on all things Cowboys, Jerry Jones, gave McClay the highest grade possible for his work.

“From organizing the initial days, from the Senior Bowl all the way to the combine, the organization of the board, coordination with the coaches – I’m going over all that because I’ll break it down – and I couldn’t give him anything but an 'A' in every respect,” Jones said. “We all know how smart he is, but he’s got a unique perspective. He’s been around this game long enough. It really came to bear in that room. He made a significant, really a significant contribution to this being a success.”


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The Cowboys made significant changes to how they approach the draft from creating Pods so coaches and scouts can discuss prospective draft picks to McClay putting the draft board together and allowing Tom Ciskowski, who previously did it, the ability to do more scouting.

The Cowboys made smart football decisions over the three days from bypassing quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was the top-rated player at the time of their selection at No. 16, to selecting Zack Martin, a tackle, who was the best player available.

In a draft where defense was needed, the Cowboys used all five of their seventh-round picks on defense. Upgrades to the defensive line were achieved when the team snagged defensive end Demarcus Lawrence in the second round and in Rounds 4 and 7 when Anthony Hitchens (fourth round) and Will Smith (seventh round) were selected to upgrade the inside linebacker spots.

Stephen Jones said despite giving up a third-round pick to move up in the second to draft Lawrence, it was worth it because the Cowboys picked up wide receiver Devin Street from Pittsburgh, considered one of the top receivers on their board.

There were little debates about players, and the Cowboys bypassed an opportunity to draft an offensive lineman in the middle rounds.

You could attribute the success of the draft to McClay and his staff.

“That may be his best trait,” Jones said. “He’s got great people skills. Everybody’s comfortable with him, but yet he’s real articulate. You understand clearly what he’s asking and what he’d like to get done. You put all that together and he did a great job. He had these coaches operating full bore as far as what they were doing, what he wanted of them. He coordinated.”
Will McClayAP Photo/James D SmithAssistant director of player personnel Will McClay, 47, will be an asset to the Cowboys in May's draft.
IRVING, Texas -- There is a Herm Edwards story that keeps coming back to Will McClay, especially now.

The story is from more than 10 years ago, when Edwards was coach of the New York Jets. As a boy, Edwards' father made him sweep the back patio of their house. When Edwards was done, his father went out back, saw the pile his son made and immediately went to the corners. They were untouched.

The message that stuck with McClay when he first heard the story was simple: Details matter.

In his current job as the Dallas Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, McClay is sweeping the corners.

In this case, sweeping the corners is looking anywhere and everywhere for a player to help the Cowboys in next month's draft. This is McClay's first as the Cowboys' highest-ranked personnel chief not named Jones.

"He's there night and day," said McClay's former Arena Football League assistant and confidante Terry Gray. "He's got a relentless passion to provide Mr. [Jerry] Jones and Stephen [Jones] the very best product available within the means and the parameters of what he's able to work with. He's nonstop. Nonstop. He doesn't sleep a whole lot."

There will be time to sleep after the draft. Maybe McClay, 47, can sneak in a little bit in June after the minicamp ends but before training camp in Oxnard, Calif., begins in late July.

For now, sleep can wait. McClay, whom the Cowboys declined to make available for this story, is in charge of putting the Cowboys' draft room together. It is a painstaking process that takes months to go through but picks up its pace in the final few weeks before the Cowboys pick No. 16 overall in the first round on May 8.

This week, nearly 30 players from across the country will visit Valley Ranch, wrapping up on Wednesday. On Thursday, the club will host its Dallas Day workouts for the local draft prospects. When it is all over, McClay and the scouting department will be back in the office grinding away, sweeping the corners.

McClay's rise to this current position has taken him through the Arena Football League as a player and coach, the defunct XFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was the assistant director of pro scouting. He joined the Cowboys organization in 2002 as defensive coordinator of the AFL's Dallas Desperados and became the head coach in 2004. He also served as a pro scout for the Cowboys, and in 2012 he was named the director of football research. Last spring he was promoted to his current title.

"Everything equates in looking at talent," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us. I commend him on the job he did finding guys like [George] Selvie and [Nick] Hayden, people like that. People that everybody had a shot at, but he brought them in."

Over the past few years, the Cowboys have found several prizes in street free agency in Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Eric Frampton, Ernie Sims and Selvie, who had seven sacks last season. The Cowboys dressed 20 different defensive linemen in 2013.

McClay spent most of the season sweeping the corners for defensive linemen. And he was doing it long before he ever heard Edwards' tale. He did it at Houston Marian Christian, playing wide receiver as a freshman and quarterback as a senior to win Class 3A state titles in the Texas Christian Interscholastic League in 1981 and ‘84.

His high school coach, Mike Treybig, remembers walking into his office only to see McClay feeding the 16-millimeter film into the projector.


He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us.

" -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones on assistant director of player personnel William McClay
"William liked watching tape," Treybig said. "I would imagine he would've loved it if we let him call his own plays. I know there were times we allowed him to do that. He was definitely a student of the game. We didn't have to worry about a lot of stuff when it came to William. We knew he did his homework and would take care of things to give us the best chance to win on that Friday."

McClay could have gone to Nebraska, but he chose Rice instead to stay close to home and played defensive back. He was recruited there by Mike Nolan, the current defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Tyrone Willingham, the former head coach at Notre Dame and Stanford, was the receivers coach at the time.

He remembers questions from McClay about what receivers looked for, searching for ways to get better as a defender even if the wins did not come as much as the Owls would have liked. Willingham and McClay remain close to this day.

"I'm personally excited for the individual, but I'm more excited for the organization because they did not let talent, for one reason or another, slip through the cracks," Willingham said. "That, to me, is so important because when you have talent you want to let it rise to the top to better everyone else in the organization."

Clint Dolezel played two years at East Texas State, throwing for 3,152 yards and 22 touchdown passes. McClay was defensive coordinator with a hand in personnel for the Milwaukee Mustangs in 1995 when Dolezel was recommended and eventually signed.

By the time Dolezel retired in 2008 with the Desperados with McClay as his head coach, he threw for 44,563 yards and 931 touchdowns.

"So many scouts get caught up in the fact, ‘Well, we want him because he went to this big school,'" said Dolezel, now the head coach of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul. "And a lot of times they're right, but those are the no-brainers that no one is pointing a finger at if he doesn't pan out. Hey, he had the pedigree because he went to Texas or Oklahoma or Florida State or Alabama. The good ones find the ones at East Texas State and schools like that."

In his interview with the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin had McClay research a particular free-agent cornerback the team was high on and wanted to sign. McClay watched the tape and concluded that the player would not be worth the money or fit in the system. Coughlin briefly objected, but McClay held firm. He got the job, and the Jaguars did not sign the player.

"There is not a magic formula," Gray said. "It's just good, old-fashioned bust-your-ass hard work and lots and lots of tape. Lots of calls. Lots of research. Just looking at thousands of players until you find one you think fits for you. He's just got a very unique way knowing a football player when he sees one. That's commonly described by a lot of people, but he just knows it at a different level. It's more than just everybody saying, ‘He can't play.' It's Will finding guys that can play that no one considered.

"Will McClay is a machine. He's a film-watching, evaluating, researching machine. He just never stops and he will never stop."

There always will be corners to sweep.
DeMarcus WareMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsIt might be time for the Cowboys to let aging defensive end DeMarcus Ware go.

The Dallas Cowboys have a chance to start over.

It’s not an ideal situation, but in the big picture, this is the perfect time.

The Cowboys are talking with Pat Dye, the agent for defensive end DeMarcus Ware, about a reduction in salary.


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Ware has been the Cowboys’ best defensive player for roughly seven consecutive seasons. But last year was different. Ware battled elbow, back, quad and a stinger in 2013.

His health betrayed him and he finished with just six sacks in the 2013 season. You could say health was the reason for his declining play or that he’s just getting old.

The reality is Ware is still a good player, not a player worth taking $16 million of your salary cap, but maybe half that.

The Cowboys have basically told him to take a pay cut or find another team.

I don’t believe they should keep him though because although Ware is still a productive player, if the team is trying to forge ahead and stop the mediocrity of the franchise, then letting him go is the best thing possible.


If Ware is off the books, it saves $7.4 million.

On June 1, you get another $5.5 million in savings when your rid yourself of Miles Austin’s contract.

That’s close to $13 million in savings from two veteran players who are battling health issues as they move to the backstage of their careers. Sure some other NFL team will sign them, that’s life in the NFL.

The Cowboys need to get younger, like yesterday. If Jason Garrett wants a contract extension he should tell Jerry Jones, let’s get younger.

It’s time to end the way the franchise has kept players around for too long and move toward the future. It’s time for the Cowboys to draft the best players on their board and clean up the communication mess of the last few years in the war room.

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Jerry JonesAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesJerry Jones has been trying to balance the acts of owner and general manager for 25 years.
IRVING, Texas -- It is never easy to decipher Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

Stories go on and on and sometimes never reach an end. Statements are made to a point, but sometimes there is no conclusion. Proclamations are made that completely counter proclamations made minutes earlier.

It sometimes sounds as if the general manager is talking out loud to the owner as he answers questions.


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For more than a few years, there has been a common thread in talk surrounding the Cowboys: When will Jerry the owner fire Jerry the general manager? It's wasted breath because it will never happen. That doesn't mean you don't ask the question, but you do so knowing the answer.

Listening to Jones on his bus at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, it was as if GM Jerry sat on one shoulder and Owner Jerry sat on the other. You have the feeling that whoever has the last speech wins.

As is their custom, the Cowboys coaches and scouts have dinner at St. Elmo Steak House in downtown Indianapolis, eating the spicy shrimp cocktail and expensive filets while sipping on the even more expensive Caymus Select wine.

The dinner lasts hours before eventually they leave in drips and drabs.

Jones recounted one discussion he had with his coaches.

"They were telling me about how guys with some experience, they just get it quicker," Jones said. "You don't need to make it complicated. They said how important it is to have free agents on your team. They just come in, and they know what to do where these rookies don't. Well, I'm talking to coaches when I'm listening to that. They want guys that immediately come in and do a better job but yet won't be probably by the end of the year."

That is the answer of a perfectly sound general manager. The GM has to always keep the future in mind. It is never about one season because a team is never one player away. The GM has to know that a draft is never just for the current season but for two, three, maybe four years down the road.

But during the course of the two-hour discussion with local media, Owner Jerry took over for a little bit.

"We need to try everything we got to compete and win next year," Jones said. "We don't have time with Romo, the stage he's at in his career. We don't have time to sit here, build for three or four years from now. And there's the challenge. So if we get it done, I know you guys will say that was a helluva job."

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Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.
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."