Cowboys value winning season over draft positioning

DALLAS - The Cowboys hindered their draft chances last Sunday with an ugly 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Cowboys, who were eliminated the week prior in a turnover-laden 21-12 letdown to the Seattle Seahawks, could finish 9-7 at best. But was a winning record worth dropping three spots in the draft from 16th overall to 19th?

"Absolutely," Cowboys owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones told our friends "Shan & RJ" on 105.3 The Fan Tuesday. "It's important. We have had a winning season, had an ugly winning season. If you can deal with what we've dealt with and have a winning season, then let's pick the main areas that we would like to improve upon and we'll have a better won-loss record. But, no, I wanted that win a lot."

It is very counterintuitive to prefer a meaningless win over three spots in the draft. After all, how significant is it really to get to string together consecutive winning seasons?

First of all, having consecutive winning seasons puts the Cowboys in rare company across the league. They are 1/8 teams in the NFL to have a winning seasons streak. The other seven teams are the usual suspects in the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, Falcons, and Seahawks. The surprising squads include the Titans and the Lions.

From 2002-16 -- wait a minute. Hold it. Why 2002? Why am I picking 2002? Don't you hate it when sportswriters or PR departments pick random years out of the blue as a starting point? 2002 is significant because that is when the NFL expanded to 32 teams and now there were four teams per eight divisions split between two conferences. It has had as much of a profound impact on the NFL regular season as the expansion two six playoff teams per conference in 1990. It's why, for example, there have been 9/52 10-6 teams to fail to make the playoffs since '02 compared to 2/35 from 1990-2001. But that's for another article.

Anyway, since 2002 there have been 31 teams that finished 9-7. And, yes, I'll even throw in a courtesy half-win extra for the '16 Washington team that finished 8-7-1 so they can be included. Among those qualifiers, 13/31 made the playoffs the next season. Among the 18 who failed to make the playoffs the next year, three underwent head coaching changes and nine had quarterback issues the next season such as injuries to the starter or a new starter altogether.

Realistically, with the same staff in place and the same quarterback under center, only six teams failed to make the playoffs the next season: the '02 Saints, '06 Broncos, '09 Texans, '10 Chargers, '12 Giants, '14 Chargers, and our fair friends in D.C. with London ties.

Something can also be said of finishing as the second place team in a division. Among the second place finishers since 2002, 49/120 (40.8 percent) have made the playoffs the next season. That's 10 full percentage points less than first place teams (61/120) thanks largely to the Patriots, but 11.6 percent greater than third place finishers (35/120) and 15 percentage points more than last place finishers (31/120).

So the questions become whether Dallas will rise to the occasion and be the cream of the conference (Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks), and if they will be like those 13 lucky teams to make the playoffs the next season.

Fun fact: since 2002, the Cowboys have a 100 percent success rate of making the playoffs the next season after a fruitless 9-7 finish. No other franchise among the 31 qualifiers has multiple teams in the lucky 13, let alone a 100 percent success rate.

Even more fun fact: every single one of the Cowboys' four 9-7 teams in franchise history went to the postseason the next year with 3/4 of them winning the division.

Just as fun fact: since 2002, 2/3 of the Cowboys' second place finishes have resulted in playoff berths the next season. The lone fail was the 2004 season when starting quarterback Quincy Carter was cut in training camp, which is no doubt a huge setback to any quest for returning to the postseason.

With regards to the draft, the Cowboys win over the Eagles dropped them from the 16th overall pick to the 19th. How far did the Cowboys fall in terms of draft value? Let's take a look at the 16th and 19th overall picks from 2010 and you be the judge:

  • 2010 -- 16th: Derrick Morgan; 19th: Sean Weatherspoon
  • 2011 -- 16th: Ryan Kerrigan; 19th: Prince Amukamara
  • 2012 -- 16th: Quinton Coples; 19th: Shea McClellin
  • 2013 -- 16th: EJ Manuel; 19th: Justin Pugh
  • 2014 -- 16th: Zack Martin; 19th: Ja'Wuan James
  • 2015 -- 16th: Kevin Johnson; 19th: Cameron Erving
  • 2016 -- 16th: Taylor Decker; 19th: Shaq Lawson
  • 2017 -- 16th: Marlon Humphrey; 19th: O.J. Howard

And, yes, how ominous it is that a three-time All-Pro was taken at 16th. But Martin was the first All-Pro taken in the 16th slot since the Eagles' Shawn Andrews in 2004, and it took three seasons for him to earn his lone selection. Furthermore, the Cowboys have a track record with this front office to find the talent after the 19th overall pick and beyond. Since 2010, 2/5 of the team's All-Pro players have been taken at pick 19 or further (Dez Bryant, 24th in 2010; Travis Frederick, 31st in 2013).

The most fun fact: since 2000, the Cowboys are 1/7 teams to have drafted multiple All-Pros from picks 19-32 overall. No one else has had more than two. The other six teams are the Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Buccaneers, Packers, and Titans.

What Dallas' problem in the draft is everybody's problem in the draft. Sometimes picks don't pan out or have the immediate impact desired. After trading up for the sixth overall pick in 2012, Dallas took Morris Claiborne. In 2017 with the 28th overall pick, Dallas took Taco Charlton. The Cowboys weren't scraping the bottom of the barrel for talent in either instance. Things just did not pan out as expected, or in Charlton's case A) not happen immediately and B) be irrevocably contrasted with a similar position picked later (i.e. T.J. Watt), which would still be the cumulonimbus cloud forming over Frisco if they had ended up with pick 16.

"We obviously have work to do," Stephen Jones told "GBag Nation" Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan. "We don't look at it as it's a little bit of work. We've obviously still got significant things that we have to do get this team where it needs to be to do what we all want, which is compete to win a Super Bowl. When you come up short like that, then obviously we're going to have to make some changes here and do some things to improve and get us at a point where we can be more consistent with this particular team that we have."

If the Dallas front office can succeed in their significant work this off-season, then perhaps they can reach the nine-win mark sooner than Week 17 in 2018.

 

Would you rather have the 16th pick and an 8-8 season or do you agree with Jerry Jones that a 9-7 season with the 19th pick is preferable? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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