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Maryland signed a five-year, $6.8 million contract, which pays him only $50,000 more than another former Miami defensive tackle, Cortez Kennedy, received last year as the third pick in the draft.
As Jones headed into the Edwards negotiations at 2 a.m., the whites of his eyes were white, his tie was tied and his top button was buttoned. "The NFL's present system of signing rookies polarizes players and clubs," Jones said. "I don't know if this sets a trend. I think we're just trying to do the common-sense thing."
The Cowboys accomplished all of this with the usual college zeal that has marked the Jones-Johnson connection, which was quick to turn the team from bad (1-15) to mediocre-but-coming-on (7-9) in its first two seasons. "No place on earth I'd rather be, and no other job I'd rather be doing," said Jones over dinner with Johnson last Friday. The Cowboy organization is a collection of eager Beaver Cleavers, you might say, with considerable football smarts.
Case in point: In March, the Dallas coaching and scouting staffs went, en masse, on a two-week trip to work out and interview the top college prospects. No other team sends five or six coaches together with two or three scouts to a single campus. But for Dallas, whose coaches have good college contacts—most of them came with Johnson from Miami—this way is best.
Johnson believes that pro scouting is more like college recruiting than most people think. Looking at game tapes and conducting workouts is important, but almost as significant is what you can drag out of coaches and trainers and hangers-on after the VCR shuts off or while the player showers. "Do you think one of my friends in college coaching would sit down with a lot of these other NFL guys and tell them if a player's had drug problems?" Johnson said. "You might eliminate one mistake if you're out two weeks. But if you do, then you've saved your club a lot of money and a draft choice. The athletic ability you can see on film. The skeletons in the closet are going to have to come from a coach or trainer or teammate."
The Cowboy coaches call it "grinding," as in, "Hey, when we go to Michigan State, we've really got to start grinding [coach] George Perles about Dixon Edwards." Which they did. "We've got to be investigative reporters sometimes," said Dallas defensive line coach Butch Davis.
Tenacious digging paid off on a trip to North Carolina State to check out defensive end Mike Jones. The Cowboys liked Jones's athleticism, but one thing puzzled them: He didn't play every play. They asked six Wolfpack staff members about this, and all of them replied that three defensive linemen alternated and that Jones was one of those. Strange, Davis thought, that such a highly touted prospect would be on the bench, especially with a game on the line. Something was fishy. So, 10 minutes before the Dallas staff left Raleigh, Davis sought out one last Wolfpack assistant, who said, "I don't know if he's tough enough. I question whether he wants to hit anybody." Bull's-eye.
The grinding continued late into last week. When the Patriots dealt the top pick in the draft to Dallas last Friday, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt and Jones met with Johnson until 2 a.m. on Saturday to make sure Maryland was the player they wanted. Even as late as Sunday night, during what was a busy third round for the Cowboys, Johnson left the draft room to grind a college coach over the phone about a player Dallas was thinking of selecting in the fourth round.
Finally, at about 9 p.m. Sunday, after the league had called a halt to the first day of the draft, Johnson had time to reflect on the 10 new Cowboys. Swallowing a few bottles of beer, he tried to downplay the significance of the day, but he left no doubt about his intended path. "We'll be good, big-time good," he said. "There's no doubt in anybody's mind here. I just want to get our guys together and play the type of aggressive football we're used to playing. I couldn't care less what the people out there think of us."
Well, not exactly. As Johnson talked his bold talk outside the draft room, director of college scouting Dick Mansperger walked by. "Hey, Dick," said Johnson. "I hope this is one of those drafts where they look back in 10 years and say, 'That's one of the best drafts ever.' "