Thursday, April 22, 2010 Updated: April 23, 3:37 PM ET
Cowboys take a risk with Bryant
By Calvin Watkins ESPNDallas.com
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones, the man who signs the checks around Valley Ranch, had said the wide receiver spot wasn't a need for the Dallas Cowboys.
But on Thursday night, the first of the extended three-day NFL draft, Jones made a bold decision, moving up to take Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Dez Bryant has surrounded himself with a solid support system, but the Cowboys still have concerns about potential off-the-field habits.
The Cowboys could have waited with the No. 27 pick and taken a cornerback such as Boise State's Kyle Wilson, or Penn State defensive end Jared Odrick. Indiana tackle Rodger Saffold was also hanging around. How about Sean Lee, the middle linebacker, from Penn State?
Jones and his coaches, scouts and front-office personnel rated three players they had to have -- Texas safety Earl Thomas, Idaho guard Mike Iupati and Bryant.
When Thomas and Iupati were taken off the board, Jones acted swiftly. He got on the phone, as did his son, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. At one point during the negotiations with the New England Patriots, Jones was talking on the cell phone of Todd Williams, the Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel.
When the deal was done, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett gave a fist-bump to Jerry Jones Jr. Wade Phillips, the head coach, smiled.
"We saw it coming," Jones said of the trade. "So we didn't have to hesitate or be apprehensive about it."
The Cowboys should, because drafting Bryant comes with risks.
The front office likes Bryant personally and values his talent, but it is concerned that he doesn't have a foundation. He grew up with a mother who was in and out of jail and a father who barely wanted him.
Bryant was outstanding on the field at Oklahoma State, but he was often late to games and meetings. He was suspended just three games into his junior season for lying to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders.
"Yes, the concerns are we can't start our meetings around here for him. Those ball games start at a certain time," Jones joked.
While the media laughed, the concerns about Bryant slap you in the face.
"I think that probably we mitigated a lot of the risk in the pick to some degree by getting to get him where we got him, as opposed to where we had him graded," Jones said. "We felt all along that you can mitigate that risk the lower you go in the first round. That's one thing. Secondly, I think that the issues we won't address, and he should address, are not the kinds of issues that really cause me to jump back -- substance, work ethic, his ability [to] 'get it' -- in terms of his mental playing ability."
Bryant is a good kid who has the support of others. His mother is in his life. He's surrounded himself with Sanders, who sends him spiritual text messages every morning. David Wells, a successful bail bondsman who is a relative of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, is another mentor.
"His intentions weren't to hurt me," Bryant said of Sanders. "He's a great person and he's going to forever stay in my life, and I'm enjoying every moment of it."
Jones talked about the Cowboys' player-development program, which helps players from all walks of life. Funny, Jones never talked about that when his team selected Felix Jones in 2008. Maybe he didn't have to.
We're not saying that a dysfunctional background means you won't succeed in life, but when an organization invests millions of dollars in you, it better do its homework.
Then again, sometimes the stories about Bryant seem outrageous.
While he was visiting St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he acted like a diva. Bryant's people disputed that account, saying that he was tired after a five-hour flight from San Francisco and declined a dinner invite because he had eaten before arriving.
He made nearly 10 visits to teams and was poked and prodded on every one.
Jones liked what he saw when he met him.
"Like you said, there's really some good information there," he said. "Really good input from where he's lived and where he's gone to school. There's great information out here. That doesn't mean every bit of it was A-plus on a measurement information, but there was real good information, and it got very consistent."
The Cowboys got their No. 3 receiver, for now. They also got their new punt returner.
It seems the Cowboys have done their homework with Bryant, and when you talk to people, they say he will make an impact.
How he does off the field -- or simply getting to the field -- could become the issue.
"The things that happened in the past, they happened in the past," Bryant said. "We're trying to fix what's going on now. My family and I have been doing great, we're doing fine, and people don't talk about that. They don't look at that. They just look at my background. They didn't look at what's going on now."
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.