As he sat in his team's war room early last Saturday afternoon, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was three minutes from NFL heaven—or three minutes from a major draft-day blunder. "Carl," Jones, phone to his ear, barked to Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson, "talk to me."
Because they had given up two No. 1 picks to acquire wideout Joey Galloway from the Seattle Seahawks in February 2000, the Cowboys hadn't had a first-round draft choice since 1999. Now Dallas was picking sixth, its highest position since selecting first (and taking defensive tackle Russell Maryland) in '91, and Jones—who had orchestrated mostly bad drafts since his ugly divorce from coach Jimmy Johnson in '94—had just three minutes left to make a choice. If the Cowboys didn't announce their pick in time, they risked having the next team in order (the Minnesota Vikings) jump in and pick a player. "It's our most important draft in 10 years," Jones had said while driving to work on Saturday morning.
Here's where Jones stood at the three-minute warning: Dallas had already fortified its defense through free agency by signing tackle La'Roi Glover and linebacker Kevin Hardy, and it went into the first round wanting either Texas's Quentin Jammer, the top-rated corner, or Oklahoma's Roy Williams, the best safety to come out of college football in years. Jammer went to the San Diego Chargers with the fifth selection, but Williams was still on the board, and Jones was ready to take him—but not before trying to extract extra draft choices from one of the teams picking just below Dallas.
The Cowboys were confident that the Vikings, picking seventh, wouldn't take Williams. The Chiefs, selecting eighth, wanted North Carolina defensive tackle Ryan Sims, whom the Vikings also coveted, so Kansas City had offered Jones its third-rounder (the 75th pick) to swap places. Meanwhile, Jones was trying to cut a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, sitting at No. 9 and believed to be interested in Miami tackle Bryant McKinnie. Jones told the Jaguars that he would trade spots with them for their second-round selection (40th overall).
As the clock ticked down toward two minutes, Peterson added a seventh-rounder in 2003 to his offer. "Not enough," Jones said.
"Jerry," said fidgety coach Dave Campo, sitting to his right, "let's just pick our guy."
The more than a dozen Dallas coaches, scouts and executives who'd sat in this room for two weeks studying players and filling in the draft board agreed with Campo that any move that might cost them Williams was too risky. What if Minnesota traded down after Dallas did, and another team slid in and stole Williams? "If I miss out on Williams," Jones later recalled thinking as the clock ticked down close to a minute, "I will be crucified. And I will never live it down."
With 70 seconds left, he asked Jacksonville director of pro scouting Fran Foley, "Can you do the two? We're about to close this out."
The clock hit one minute. Foley stalled. Jones asked Peterson for his final offer. The three this year, Peterson said, and next year's sixth-rounder. Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, alarmed that it was taking so long to complete the deal, snapped, "What's a third-rounder? Get it done!" Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, loving the poker game, said, "Roll the dice, baby! Roll the dice! Keep going."
Forty seconds. Foley said no. Jones picked up the line to Peterson. Calm on the outside but roiling inside, Jones slammed his pen on the table. "Carl, let's go. Turn the trade in."