Jerry Jones Should Take Notes
When Jerry Jones watched the AFC and NFC championship games, let's hope he was taking notes. There was a lot to learn.
True, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots boast future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Finding that kind of talent is a rarity in the NFL, and it's the reason why teams hold on to their top signal callers.
In the NFC, however, neither young quarterback who played in the championship game is a Hall of Fame shoo-in. The reason the Seahawks and 49ers played for a chance at football's ultimate prize is because they are solidly built teams.
The 49ers may have lost the championship game, but the team is poised to be in the hunt next year because of a solid foundation.
Jones should look at these two teams as blueprints when he attempts to pull Dallas out of the quagmire of mediocrity.
Tony Romo may not have Colin Kaepernick's deer-like stride and athleticism, or Russell Wilson's instant quickness in a crowd, but the Cowboys' QB can avoid a pass rush. Romo also has a better arm than Wilson and usually makes better throws than Kaepernick.
The difference is that those two quarterbacks have a solid team surrounding them. Seattle and San Francisco built up their rosters through a combination of smart draft picks and shrewd free-agency signings.
This is what Jerry Jones would see if he bothered to look at how the top two teams in the NFC were built.
The 49ers may have lost the championship game, but the team is poised to be in the hunt next year because of a solid foundation. Offensively, this foundation started in 2005 with the drafting of running back Frank Gore in the third round.
Since then the 49ers have added playmakers like Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick and three powerful offensive lineman all through the draft. They then traded for Anquan Boldin this offseason to add a veteran presence in the locker room. The move worked like a charm.
On defense, the 49ers are built around a set of four stud linebackers, three of whom they drafted. They brought Ahmad Brooks from the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008 and let him learn as a backup for a few seasons. Brooks has since started every game for three years.
The pinnacle of the Seahawks' brilliant player development is its secondary — nicknamed the Legion of Boom — which boasts only one first-round pick.
The defensive line only has one player the 49ers drafted. The free agents, however, have more than filled in the positions. Meanwhile, the secondary is a combination of a first-round talent (whom the 49ers traded with the Cowboys last draft to move up and acquire), a sixth-round steal and two free agents. Together these players formed a top-three defense in the conference.
The NFC champions have an even more fascinating climb to greatness. This is a team that in 2009 completely whiffed on the No. 4 pick of the draft when they selected linebacker Aaron Curry, who is now out of the league. Such a miss could set a franchise back for years, but Seattle followed that infamous showing by grabbing no fewer than four solid starters in each of the next few drafts.
The pinnacle of the Seahawks' brilliant player development is its secondary, nicknamed the Legion of Boom. This dominant group boasts only one first-round pick in Earl Thomas. Shutdown corner (and world-class trash talker) Richard Sherman was a fifth-round pick, as was All-Pro safety Cam Chancellor. Byron Maxwell was a sixth-round pick.
This sums up Seattle's draft prowess of the past few years.
The team used a trade to get Marshawn Lynch as the centerpiece of its offense. Two middling picks to land Beast Mode. That's what people in the industry might call a steal.
By the time the Seahawks brought in Russell Wilson, he wasn't asked to save a franchise; he was simply asked to steer the machine that had already been constructed. He did just that.
The rest of the team is a mixture of draft picks and inexpensive free-agent signings that have blossomed under coach Pete Carroll's competitive atmosphere that rewards production over name value. Players feel that if they perform, they will be rewarded.
Wilson is a perfect example. He was a third-round quarterback brought in to back up Matt Flynn, who had just signed an expensive free agent contract. Throughout the pre-season, however, Wilson outplayed Flynn, and coaches noticed that players paid more attention to Wilson.
Despite the huge contract, Flynn was benched, and the more productive Wilson was given a starting job. Try to imagine that happening under Jerry Jones — a name-brand player getting displaced by an unknown middling draft pick due to his production in training camp. Don't hurt your brain too much.
While Cowboys fans sit at home and watch two different teams once again play in the Super Bowl, they can only dream that one day they will be able to look back on the NFL draft and free agency period as the beginning of something special.
They aren't holding their breath, though.