- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the reasons I love Twitter, as part of my job, is that I believe this blog needs to be a constantly ongoing, evolving discussion about these four teams, and Twitter is a useful extension of that. Case in point: Thursday night, the Dallas Cowboys make their trade up in the draft to pick Morris Claiborne. I write a quickie reaction post saying I don't like the trade (the trade, not the player, mind you), and my Cowboys fans on Twitter are very upset about it. Hey, I get it. I rained on your parade. You're sitting there with the best defensive player in the draft and I'm telling you they made a mistake. I understand the reactions. Completely.
But overnight, and this morning, my conversations with you all on Twitter have helped me crystallize my thoughts on this matter. And rather than continue to try and explain them in 140-character snippets, I figured I'd do a blog post explaining my reasoning in a more in-depth fashion than was permitted by an instant-analysis post filed from the frantic floor of Radio City Music Hall. So here goes.
First of all, I love the player. None of my criticism of this move should be construed by anyone as criticism of Claiborne himself. I believed the Cowboys needed to draft the best defensive player available to them, and they drafted the best defensive player available to anyone. It is my opinion that Claiborne will be an excellent player for Dallas. I think he'll be the best corner on the team by Halloween, and if not for the wrist injury that's going to cost him the OTA portion of the offseason I think he could have been that even sooner.
The problem, of course, is that I don't know how good he'll be, and neither do the Cowboys and neither does anyone else. High draft picks bust all the time, and sometimes they're guys who looked as though they couldn't miss. That's why, in most cases, it's important for teams to be careful with their picks -- to try and get as many good-looking prospects as possible, especially in the early rounds, as a hedge against the possibility that one or a couple of them don't pan out. Sure, there are teams that find themselves in position to make bold moves to jump and go all-in for one player. But I don't think this year's Cowboys are such a team, and that's why I wouldn't have done what they did if I'd been in their position -- no matter how much I liked Claiborne.
One of the results of the move, as many of you have pointed out, is that the Cowboys -- who were utterly dreadful in the secondary last year -- now have one of the deepest and most talented cornerback groups in the league. With Claiborne joining free-agent addition Brandon Carr and holdovers Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, they have succeeded in turning a killer weakness into a strength. All of that is true, and given the manner in which secondary play sunk their 2011 season, I can understand the temptation to go over the top to fix it.
But there are other results of this move that are more detrimental to the Cowboys' offseason plans than Claiborne himself is beneficial. They still need help for the pass rush and the defensive line, and they could still use an upgrade at safety. Making this trade means they'll get to the end of the second round without having addressed any of those areas. Jason Garrett said just the other day that he believes you get your starting-quality players in the first three rounds. This deal means they've decided to use this draft to get only two of those instead of three. Given their many areas of need, in the short and long terms, I consider this unwise.
Also, there's a report out this morning that they're now trying to trade Jenkins. They're not going to get anything decent for Jenkins now. He's coming off shoulder surgery, couldn't stay on the field last year and, after they spent two picks on a cornerback Thursday night, everybody in the league knows Jenkins is an extraneous piece for them. They won't get good value for him. If they'd wanted to replace him, they should have traded him last week and then moved up to take Claiborne. This is a team that has totally changed its plan on the fly in the past 24 hours, and that's not a good way to do offseason NFL business.
One comparison many of you have used in arguments against me is the Redskins, who clearly gave up much more to move up four spots and draft Robert Griffin III than the Cowboys did to move up eight spots and draft Claiborne. The Redskins, you say, have even more needs, and therefore even more reason to play carefully with their picks. And that is also true. But every team's situation is different, and the Redskins' crying need to do something big at quarterback drove their decision. The Redskins absolutely had to make the trade they made to get Griffin. And as good a player as Claiborne is, and as bad as Dallas was in the secondary last year, they did not absolutely have to make a big move to go up and get him. Not in the same way the Redskins needed to address quarterback. Not even close.
Will any of this matter? Who knows? You can't judge a draft in the first 24 hours or even the first 24 months. If Claiborne is the next Deion Sanders, nobody will care that the Cowboys didn't make as many 2012 picks as they should have made. And you'll remember me (if you remember me at all) as the clown who ripped the pick when they made it. All I can do is sit here right now and read the situation as I see it. The way I see it, the Cowboys had no business using their first two picks on just one player who plays a position they already addressed -- in a major, costly way -- in free agency. That's not a great use of resources. And as much fun as it is to pick out the player you like most in the draft and go get him, it's usually smarter to view these draft choices as resources. The Cowboys don't have as many of them now as they would have had if they'd stayed put, selected one of the very good defensive players still available at 14 and held onto a potentially useful second-round pick. In my opinion, they don't have as many of them as they still need.