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Peter King
April 07, 2008
Big D-cisions
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April 07, 2008

The Nfl

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Big D-cisions

Trading up to take Darren McFadden is tempting, but the Cowboys have more pressing needs to address in the draft

MAYBE, AT age 65, Jerry Jones is growing up. Once, the impetuous Cowboys owner would have packaged draft choices to leap into the top of the first round and take the player of his dreams, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden. But these days he sounds like a changed man. "Six or seven years ago the wow factor with McFadden might have gotten to me," said Jones, an Arkansas alum, at the NFL meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. "It's just so obvious to me what we need to do with our first-round picks. These picks are currency, and this is a now draft for us. I can't afford to get caught up in what would be a luxury pick because [ McFadden] is a Razorback."

Dallas is the only team with two first-round selections on April 26, Nos. 22 (acquired last year from Cleveland when the Browns moved up to get Brady Quinn) and 28. Given Jones's history of bold moves and the team's recent release of running back Julius Jones, speculation was rife that Dallas would trade up to get McFadden. But Jones told SI it's highly unlikely he'll do that, because of the monstrous guaranteed money McFadden would command (about $23 million for the fourth pick, which is about where he's expected to go) and because of the multiple holes in the Cowboys' offense. Jones more likely would use the two picks to draft a lesser back in a rich crop of them (maybe McFadden's Arkansas understudy, Felix Jones) and a receiver to pair with Terrell Owens. Don't be shocked, though, to see Jones dangle one of the choices for a veteran wideout—possibly the Bengals' Chad Johnson or the Lions' Roy Williams—who could start on opening day rather than select a rookie who'd take a while to learn the pro game.

Dallas is intent on helping quarterback Tony Romo early and often in this draft. "What can we do to make Tony the best he can be?" Jones said. "Since Troy [Aikman] left, I don't think we've had the chance in any one draft to help build around the quarterback the way we can here."

It might seem strange, the second-highest scoring team in the NFL so desperate to beef up its attack. But 2007 was a tale of two seasons for the Cowboys. During their 12--1 start they put up 32.5 points per game; in their 1--3 finish they averaged 12.3. It eats at Jones that with a berth in the NFC title game on the line, Dallas gained 115 yards and scored three points in the second half of a 21--17 loss to the Giants. That's what makes this a now draft for Jones, who can't afford to rely on aging and injured wideout Terry Glenn, 33, or the mistake-prone Patrick Crayton to take the pressure off Owens. Nor can they leave the full rushing load to Marion Barber, a battering ram whose season high in carries over his first three years is 204.

Here's Jones's thinking. The backup to Barber will run the ball about 150 times. If the Cowboys were to deal up to get McFadden, they'd be paying him LaDainian Tomlinson money for Chester Taylor production. Then the only way they could get the receiver they need would be to trade next season's No. 1 pick for a veteran. In short: Using their first-round choices now on two good bodies is better than drafting one superior one who'd be underused and overpaid.

Sounds easy. Now all Jones has to do in the next three weeks is find a back he likes—and a G.M. willing to trade him a Pro Bowl wideout.

ONLY AT SI.COM Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.