By Will Martin
Moments after the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft came to an end Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett gathered to address the media about the choice they made and to address other questions that many were anticipating would happen.
Were you sold on Zack Martin being your 16th pick or did you try to trade out of the 16th pick?
We spent a lot of time looking at possible trades back and spent almost eight or nine minutes looking at that. We were on the phone looking at that and weighing that against the opportunity to take Zack.
Did you have any offers for the 16th pick?
We had semi offers. Guys checking with other people to check, and by the time we got down to it…we did not turn down firm offers.
How do you respond to the proverbial world about the difficulty involved in not going after Johnny Manziel knowing he was out there and available at #16?
The fact that we got [quarterback Tony] Romo more protection with that quality of player took any of the positives…There’s no way any of the quarterbacks come in here and beats out Tony Romo. We know that.
There we had an outstanding starter that could really come in and immediately come in and help us do what we needed to do. I said the other day we are strong at the quarterback position in our minds, and the fact that Martin was there mitigated any consideration or a lot of thinking about whether or not you ought to go with Johnny.
As you well know in here, Romo is by contract as well as by commitment is certainly the quarterback for the Cowboys for several years to come. There is no moving around that. I don’t care who you draft, that’s the way it would have been. That was going through our minds from the get-go. That’s why we didn’t spend a lot of time at all in this draft considering Manziel.
Is it by design that you have drafted offensive linesman in three of the last four years?
We believe games in the National Football League are won up front. If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s.
You need to build the infrastructure of your team, and we feel like we’ve got a great start with that with Tyron Smith and added to that last year by drafting Travis Frederick. We feel like Zack Martin is in that same mold of those kinds of guys. We feel like he is a darn good football player.
When we evaluated him against some of the other guys all across our draft board he consistently came up as one of the best players in this draft. We had an opportunity to get him at 16, we felt like it was important to be disciplined. We felt like we had needs going into this draft. You want to address your needs, but you want to address your needs with the best players available. We felt like we did that today.
Going forward what will the game plan be with Zack Martin?
He was a 52 game starter at Notre Dame. Thirteen games a year for four years. He’s been a left tackle for them but played inside at the Senior Bowl and did a very good job there. People believe he can play center and a lot of people argue he can play all five spots on the offensive line.
Initially we will give him a chance to work inside as an offensive guard and see how he holds up there. Again, he got very favorable reviews from the Senior Bowl with him working inside. He does have a lot of position flex and a lot of experience playing outside. We feel like he can play across the board on the offensive line.
Do you see Zack Martin on the right side of the line and as someone who can learn from Doug Free?
We don’t want to declare right or left right now. He played principally on the left side in college, but he has shown position flex. He is a smart football player, he is an instinctive football player. He has played a lot of snaps at a high level, and we feel like he’s a guy who mentally he can handle it and athletically he can handle it.
At the end of the day we are going to put him in and mix him into the competition we have up front, and we are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line. We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more. We just think he is a darn good football player. I’m really excited to have him on our club.
Stephen [Jones] just reminded me, as a matter of fact he didn’t need to remind me he was the one on the phone fielding trade conversations. He wanted to be sure to tell me that by definition you could count some offers that we had as firm offers, but you had no acceptance or you had no meeting of the minds. We obviously didn’t take it or we would have made the trade. I do want to make that correction. There were technically some firm offers, but not any one that we were interested in.
Talk about the decision to NOT take Johnny Manziel.
I think that Tony [Romo] has everything to do with this decision. We have a big commitment to Tony. We feel that anything we look at at quarterback would be down the road and in the future in the development of that quarterback. If you look at the difficult dynamic giving up this player that really enhances what we can do on offense and what Tony can do for the future, just on a pretty quick consideration didn’t make sense.
That was the driving force behind it. John Madden once told me when I was talking to him about this idea of personalities being involved with the Cowboys, and he said ‘Jerry, the Cowboys have all the flash and have all the visibility that you could ever conjure up. Make your decisions, get the best players and coaches that win the games. You’ve got all the rest of it. You don’t need to have big time flash to be involved in the NFL and be successful in the NFL.’ I’ve always remembered that.
No, it frankly was not even a thought. This was such an obvious football period, how to beat San Francisco coming up here real soon, decision. The idea of flare, flash, show business, all that kind of thing, was never even a consideration here. We never discussed that type of thing.
Were you surprised that Johnny Manziel was available at #16?
I think Jason [Garrett] can answer that for himself. I was surprised, yes. But what I was even more surprised about is the fact that he was there and didn’t bring on a bonanza of offers that would have given us maybe more options. I was also surprised, frankly, that we had the option to take [Zack] Martin. This would have been a lot tougher decision had a player of that caliber, a player that we had rated where we had him rated, it would have been a lot tougher decision in looking at those trade offers that we might have had.
Did your declarations of not taking Manziel take away from other potential offers?
I don’t think so. I would assume, I’m going to give everybody credit, if they needed a quarterback and they were willing to finesse what I said at a press conference and gamble losing that quarterback over the kinds of things that we were talking about in that trade.
I’m going to give them more credit than that. They’re not that chincy at that particular time when it would mean a franchise quarterback. By the way, he’s an outstanding player, and we know he’s an outstanding player. We had him very high on our board. Like I said, we’re blessed. We have a great quarterback.
Did you wish you had more than ten minutes to handle phone calls?
We had our hands around this. We didn’t have to spend any time talking about what Martin was or debating about what Martin was. We didn’t have to spend any time about that. We basically looked at draft strategy, what was in the best interest of the team.
It’s no secret we’d like to have some defense in this draft, but as I think I mentioned the other day, I keep going back to that, you have an outstanding draft and you have an outstanding offensive player or two in it. If in fact the right one drops down there and is at the right price and helps us out a lot, and we do need help in our interior. It was right there with our defense, we had interior help. It was our next area of needing to improve was in that area of offensive line.
Now that you have an offensive lineman picked how much of a priority is the defensive side?
I think we’re going to go down just like we made this decision. We’re going to see what player is there available for us. We’re going to see what trades are there, and I wouldn’t want to bet a lot that we might not take an offensive player again or take an offensive player at any pick coming up. From the standpoint of looking at our needs, I would say right now we need a defensive player more than we need an offensive player.
How much discussion was there in the war room with Scott Linehan?
I think Scott was involved in our process really like all of our coaches and scouts. Mr. Jones made reference to this earlier about that these are collective decisions. Ultimately he makes the call of who we’re choosing as a football team, but the process that we go through with (assistant director of player personnel) Will McClay and (director of scouting) Tom Ciskowski and all of our scouts and all of our coaches – it’s really a thorough process and that communication was outstanding.
Scott was in the room. (Defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli was in the room. They’re certainly involved in those conversations as we get closer. But one of the things that I felt best about is that we had so many discussions about strategy prior to this draft, and it didn’t take a lot of discussion once we were on the clock to say, ‘What do we want to do here?’ We had targeted players. Some of those players were gone.
Martin was a guy that we really liked. If we were going to sit there and pick, he was certainly one of the guys that we were ecstatic to be able choose for our football team. It was almost reaffirming some of the conversations that we had had over the last few weeks and certainly over the last few days.
Jason, what did you like about Zack Martin?
I think his track record as a player speaks for itself. To be a four-year starter at Notre Dame, an outside player there playing left tackle, but again, having the position flex (to play) inside; smart; tough; dependable; everything you want. Someone made a reference that he’s one of the safest picks of the draft, and that’s certainly a compliment, but we don’t necessarily see him as a safe player.
We see him as a damn good football player who has a track record to show it and has a lot of attributes in the players that we want. He has a great passion for the game; a great work ethic; he’s tough and a guy you certainly want on your offensive line. He can play some different spots – that’s certainly something you feel like is a real asset that he has – but in particular inside we think that’s going to be his starting point. He has position flex to go outside and play tackle, again, is a real asset for us.”
Was there anything from Zack’s pre-draft visit that stood out with you?
He just reaffirmed everything that we thought. We bring these guys in and there’s always a philosophy discussion that we have – who do you want to bring in? Do you want to bring in the slam dunk guys who you know are really good people, the kind of people you want on your team, or do you want to bring in maybe the dicier guys to try to find out more about and maybe answer some questions. Philosophically we always bring in a little of both. He certainly fits the bill we heard nothing but great things about. Whenever anybody had talked to him prior to coming here it was all very, very positive. All that was reaffirmed in his visit.
He missed his first night (in Dallas) due to plane logistics that just didn’t work. We had told everybody involved in making reservations and all that type of things let’s really get in there and accommodate his schedule because directly I really wanted to spend some time with him and got to.
We were out there overlooking the stadium looking at the video board and it reminded me that when Notre Dame had played there he was in the dressing room and I went down to the dressing room and talked to some players and (Notre Dame head) coach Brian (Kelly) and all of that group. It was something we really wanted to have that visit and make no mistake about it, we have been interested in him as a player.”
How much planning was involved to have a Zack Martin drafted to join a Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith on the O line?
I think that I really didn’t need to go that far. I think that you look around here, I think we now have more number ones that we’ve drafted – San Francisco has three number ones (draft picks) – and you’re right that we’ve made a habit of drafting three number ones. We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adams’ and Larry Allens’ at number two (second round), but those days are over apparently.
So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good and all of that is about franchise. I just can’t emphasize enough is that a sensitive area for these quarterbacks is up the middle. One of the guys encouraging this decision to take him reminded me that the best defense is a good offense when we were sitting there wondering if we should trade down and maybe try to use this asset or this ammo on defense. It was a pretty popular decision in the draft room.
Was Tony Romo involved with the first round of drafting options?