By Matthew Postins
Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is slammed locally for his perceived inability to identify talent. Is that perception? Or is that reality?
Most Cowboys fans will tell you it is reality. But I sought to determine if that was indeed the case.
For this project I examined every Cowboys draft from 1989, the year Jones took over the team as owner and general manager, and 2009, the last year in which I could take a logical sample size. My goal was to see, through objective analysis, if Jones was good, bad, or ugly at identifying talent on his own.
I divided this project into four time periods. First was 1989-1993, when Jones and Jimmy Johnson worked together. The perception, Jones’ objections notwithstanding, is that Johnson made the personnel decisions. Next was 1994-2002, a time period in which Jones made the final decisions, with the help of his scouting department. Third was 2003-2006, during which Bill Parcells was head coach and made personnel decisions (Jones would probably debate that, too). The final time frame was 2007-2009, when Jones was, again, making his own decisions.
Part One delves into the basic numbers of these four time periods. Part Two breaks down the quality of the players drafted during these time periods.
So let’s dive in and start with the raw numbers.
The Basic Math
I started by examining every draft for each time period, tallying up the total number of players drafted, the total number of players that made the active roster their rookie season and were still on the active roster after three seasons. Here is where that led me:
1989-93: 62 players drafted, 40 players active after one year, 23 players active after three years; 37 percent of the players drafted were on the team after three seasons.
1994-2002: 75 players drafted, 63 active after one year, 38 active after three years; 50.6 percent of the players drafted were on the team after three seasons.
2003-06: 31 players drafted, 28 active after one year, 18 active after three years; 58 percent of the players drafted were on the team after three seasons.
2007-09: 26 players drafted, 19 active after one year, 14 active after three years; 53.8 percent of the players drafted were on the team after three seasons.
Early conclusion: The Jones-Johnson era was actually the worst at keeping drafted players for at least three seasons (three seasons is a benchmark accepted by NFL personnel directors as a factor in judging a successful or unsuccessful draft). I would attribute that to the Cowboys remaking a bad roster and Johnson’s penchant for turning over the bottom of his roster.
After examining those numbers I dug deeper. This time, I decided to look at service time. That’s the number of years that players the Cowboys drafted stayed with the team. Now, understand that there are some factors I can’t take into account, such as salary cap constraints and off-the-field issues that led to a player’s release. This number is, simply, an average of all of the service time accumulated by the Cowboys’ drafted players during these time frames.
1989-93: 6.82 years
1994-2002: 4.9 years
2003-06: 5.9 years
2007-09: 4.36 years
Conclusion: The players procured during the Johnson and Parcells eras remained with the Cowboys for at least a full year more than either of the eras in which Jones worked without them. I think that is significant. That tells me that Johnson and Parcells were better at drafting players with the ability to sustain their talent long-term. Now, that’s difficult to project. Some of that is luck. But consider this: 19 of the players drafted by Johnson and Parcells were with the Cowboys for at least six years. Only nine of the players drafted by Jones alone lasted at least six years. Six years is significant. Most NFL rookie contracts last from four to six years. So for the majority of these players, lasting six years with a team means they are on their second contract.
In Part Two we delve into the quality of the players drafted during these eras and draw some conclusions.