Garrett controls draft -- and his future

Jason Garrett embarks upon the most important draft of his NFL coaching career this week.

He can't screw it up.

Otherwise, we'll be discussing another head coach's approach to the draft. This is the year to err on the side of caution and be conservative.

That means this is not the year to select to select a dude who needs a year to recover from a torn ACL such as Sean Lee or Bruce Carter. It's not the year to select a small-school project such as David Arkin, who needs time to get bigger or stronger before he's ready to compete in the NFL. This is the year to draft quality players ready to contribute now.

Right now. Got it?

Understand, this hasn't really been a problem for Garrett during the two drafts he's controlled. Yes, he controls the draft.

Jerry Jones has always let his head coach control the draft. Some of them, such as Garrett, Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson have taken advantage of the opportunity. Others, such as Wade Phillips, Dave Campo and Chan Gailey, have opted to let Jerry take the lead for whatever reason.

But you know Garrett is running the draft -- no matter how much Garrett and Jerry talk about a decision-making committee -- because he's forever talking about adding the right kind of guys.

He talks about drafting smart players. And players who were captains because he wants leaders. Garrett wants tough, physical players who love the game, which makes sense, because professional football is too hard on the mind, body and soul to excel without a true passion for the sport.

Garrett's two first-round picks were Southern California left tackle Tyron Smith and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, each of whom were highly productive players from big-time schools.

That's a smart route to take. And that's the route he needs to take this year because the Cowboys have so many holes that they can fill a need at any position from offensive and defensive line to running back to receiver. So there's no good reason for Garrett and the Cowboys to not follow the draft board they've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless man-hours creating. And if Garrett and Jerry aren't going to follow the board, then they should fire the folks putting the board together.

We know the first pick is going to be a starter, whether it's a defensive lineman such as North Carolina's Sylvester Williams or Missouri's Sheldon Richardson or Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro or someone else.

But it's the second and third round in which the Cowboys must also get starters or significant contributors, which means players who have large roles on the team. Last season, Claiborne started 16 games and was on the field for 909 snaps. Third-round pick Tyron Crawford played 303 snaps.

The rest of the draft picks? They combined for just 123 plays.


Fourth-round pick Matt Johnson battled a variety of hamstring injuries all season and never played. Fifth-round pick Danny Coale broke his foot in training camp, then suffered a torn left ACL in November and never played. Neither did seventh-round pick Caleb McSurdy, who missed the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Garrett has shown a reluctance to play rookies -- aside from first-round picks -- and give them meaty roles. He prefers to ease them into the action.

In today's NFL, it's better to play the youngsters, get them experience and hope they've matured enough to contribute mightily in the last quarter of the season. More than even, that's the approach Garrett must take with the players he acquires in the 2013 draft.

The depth of this draft, combined with the Cowboys' penchant for trading on draft day, means none of us should be surprised if the Cowboys trade out of the 18th spot and move down to collect an additional third- or fourth-round pick.

In this draft, it could make sense.

Again, the Cowboys just have so many holes that if they can add another pick in the third or fourth round and secure one more significant contributor, then it's a win for the Cowboys.

Garrett can play it however he wants. All that matters is when the draft ends, the Cowboys have at least three players capable of being significant contributors in 2013.

If not, then Garrett faces an uphill battle to survive past this season.