DALLAS — On Wednesday, the trio of owner Jerry Jones, chief operating officer Stephen Jones, and coach Jason Garrett sat at dais that also included former personnel boss, Gil Brandt, as the Dallas Cowboys held their pre-draft press conference.
Who was absent, but nonetheless as vital as the two Joneses and Garrett, was assistant director of player personnel, Will McClay. In a draft where the Cowboys won't have their first round pick for the first time since 2009, McClay may be the significant piece that still allows Dallas to draft well.
"I think one of the best things we do is communicate in the organization," said Garrett. "And Will does a great job not only leading that department but communicating with ownership, with coaches and kind of facilitating all of that to get everybody on the same page. We probably draft our best when we have good consensus among everybody."
One of the ways that McClay helps get everyone on the same page during a disagreement is to find out which player everyone likes.
"At some point you do just agree to disagree, and we try to avoid those players if we can’t get a consensus," said Stephen. "You try to find a player that fits at that level where there is a consensus. We’ve done a great job of that and I credit Will a lot. He’s just a tremendous consensus builder."
A part of what helps McClay to quickly and credibly present players to the coaches and the front office that each side agrees upon is his intense research for every draft class.
"He digs, digs, digs," said Jerry. "He’s done his homework. We’re having the job of having Gil [Brandt] be a part of this thing, who is the father of doing your homework, and getting out detailed information, and then bringing those facts to the table."
Another element is he spends considerable time with each group to determine what they are looking for in a player.
Said Stephen: "He spends a ton of time obviously with his staff. He also spends a ton of time with our coaching staff, with each position coach. And then of course he’s very intensively involved with Jerry and myself in terms of how he communicates. I think he’s as good as they get."
McClay has been a leader for the Cowboys when it comes to facilitating that process, and it is hard to argue with the results. Since 2014, when McClay was elevated to his current role, the Cowboys have found six Pro Bowlers and 16 starting caliber players in the draft.
One of the reasons why the Cowboys make the playoffs every two seasons seems to be because McClay hits on a great draft in the same span, and a strong rookie class buttresses a veteran team hunting for postseason success.
With no first round pick, the strategy of the Cowboys in the Garrett era has been flipped. Traditionally, the first-round pick was allocated for a can't-miss type player. It's why receiver Dez Bryant (2010), left tackle Tyron Smith (2011), center Travis Frederick (2013), right guard Zack Martin (2014), cornerback Byron Jones (2015), running back Ezekiel Elliott (2016), and Leighton Vander Esch (2018) have each made at least a Pro Bowl.
With a surefire guy onboard, the second-round pick was used to gamble on an at-risk player with high upside, such as linebacker Sean Lee (2010), linebacker Bruce Carter (2011), defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (2014), defensive end Randy Gregory (2015), and linebacker Jaylon Smith (2016).
In 2019, the script has flipped. Because of the trade for receiver Amari Cooper with the Oakland Raiders last season, the Cowboys used their 2019 first-round pick on a risk, and it paid off. Now, they will have to use their second-round pick on a sure player who can contribute, not a risk.
If there is anyone who can get all stakeholders in the organization on the same page to find that player, it is McClay.
Do you think Will McClay and the Cowboys can come away with another stellar draft class even without a first round pick? Share your thoughts on the upcoming NFL Draft with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.