Commentary

It's strong draft or curtains for Garrett

Embattled Cowboys coach will not likely survive if 2014 has no impactful draftees

Updated: February 24, 2014, 2:24 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Jerry Jones AP Photo/James D SmithCan Jerry Jones, center, and Jason Garrett, left, find field-ready talent in May's NFL draft?

The Dallas Cowboys have spent much of the past week studying prospects at the NFL scouting combine in anticipation of the most important draft of coach Jason Garrett's career.

Now, Garrett would never view it that way because he's too pragmatic.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
AP Photo/James D. SmithThe Cowboys can't afford big-name draftees who underproduce, such as 2012 first-rounder Morris Claiborne.

But this draft will either bolster the Cowboys roster with a much-needed infusion of talent while positioning Garrett for a contract extension, or it won't -- and he'll get fired when the Cowboys have yet another ho-hum .500 season.

This team has so many holes that Garrett can't afford an underachieving player such as cornerback Morris Claiborne, who was a first-round pick in 2012, or a bust such as offensive lineman David Arkin, a fourth-round selection in 2011.

The Cowboys can't even afford to take a chance on a boom-or-bust player, such as Dez Bryant, this year. Sure, Bryant, a first-round pick in 2010, has thrived, but there's a reason he dropped out of the top 10.

This year, the Cowboys need ballers, players who can step in and contribute immediately, in each of the first four rounds. There's no time to wait for tight end Gavin Escobar to earn the coaches' trust and develop as a blocker. They don't need small-school guys, such as Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox or William & Mary cornerback B.W. Webb, who might need time to adjust to the NFL after playing against lesser competition in college.

This Cowboys team needs guys who can help on defense right now.

Don't forget, this team yielded a league-worst 415.3 yards per game and gave up more than 30 points seven times, including three games of more than 40.

They set a franchise record by allowing 623 yards against the Detroit Lions and two games later established a new record of futility when the New Orleans Saints gained 625 yards.

The Cowboys will be tight against the salary cap -- which will be about $130 million -- so they're not going to be able to sign any impact free agents. There's a chance DeMarcus Ware gets cut if he doesn't accept a pay cut, and there's certainly no guarantee defensive linemen Jason Hatcher or Anthony Spencer will return. So if Garrett is going to get the Cowboys into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, he must get help from this draft. It's the only way this team can get an infusion of dynamic talent.

Hey, one draft can make a difference.

The 1964 draft gave the Cowboys three Hall of Fame players: Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes and Roger Staubach. The Dirty Dozen draft of 1975, led by Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White and Thomas Henderson, helped the Cowboys get to Super Bowl X.

The 1989 draft with Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski and Tony Tolbert laid the foundation for the team of the '90s that won three Super Bowls.

And the 2005 draft of Ware, Marcus Spears, Kevin Burnett, Chris Canty, Marion Barber and Jay Ratliff set the foundation of the Cowboys team that went 13-3 in 2007 and finished with the NFC's best record.

So, it can be done.

The Cowboys just need to keep it simple: draft players who performed at a high level in the best conferences.

It's better to miss in the fourth round on a guard from Alabama than some directional school in Missouri. It's better to miss on a Pac-12 cornerback than one from William & Mary.

Obviously, guys at small schools can play. Larry Allen is in the Hall of Fame, and he was a second-round pick from Sonoma State. Under different circumstances, the Cowboys could take a chance on that type of player.

Not now.

This is the year to be conservative. There's no need to take great talents with character or drug problems.

Oh yeah, no more injured guys. Sean Lee is a fantastic player, but he has missed 15 games the past two seasons, and in four seasons, he's never played 16 games. Bruce Carter essentially needed a redshirt season as a rookie after tearing a knee ligament as a college senior.

The 4-3 Tampa 2 defensive scheme relies on a weakside linebacker who can make plays, a disruptive defensive tackle and a thumper at safety. The Cowboys have none of those pieces.

Their defensive line is in shambles, and they have questions at two of three linebacker spots.

The point? Just take the best player. There's no need to reach for a player, because the Cowboys can use help everywhere.

If they get it, Garrett probably will get a contract extension. If he doesn't, this will be his last season as the Cowboys coach.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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