Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones gives creative defense of NFL draft pick

FRISCO, Texas – Jerry Jones held up the color-coded paper and asked, “Can you see that?”

The Cowboys, the owner claimed, had rated their new player higher than a pair of widely expected and preferred potential fans in the 24th overall selection of the 2022 NFL Draft. What better way to back up his claim than by showing reporters the team’s typed draft notes and a live press conference as evidence?

“Don’t show them that!” said Cowboys executive vice-president Stephen Jones, slapping his father’s arm. “Put that thing down.”

Cowboys select Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith after receiving three commercial offers to go down, they said. The team praised Smith’s flexible position down the line, describing him as a “left stance player” who will compete at left guard, where Dallas has a starting vacancy, and left tackle. , where aging Pro Bowler Tyron Smith suffered injuries in his 30s.

Tyler Smith played 25 games, starting 23, in three years at left tackle for Tulsa. He said the Cowboys didn’t specifically discuss his position during a private practice session and a professional one-day movie session, but he was up for the challenge of becoming more versatile.

“I played tackle in college, but I’m ready to play wherever they put me,” Smith said over the phone. “I’m going to take the coaching and I’m going to practice everything.”

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Smith added that he would bring “120 percent to infinity” effort while embracing the aggressive mentality he honed as a defensive lineman in high school. The Cowboys touted his badness as a top quality that piqued their interest.

“He’s a big, athletic, physical guy who’s going to play in a big, athletic, physical league,” vice president of player personnel Will McClay said.

Dallas’ offensive line has struggled in 2021 with running lane cohesion, identifying coverage in pass protection and excessive penalties. No team has exceeded the Cowboys’ 141 total flags and no player has exceeded the 14 penalties left by guard Connor Williams. The Cowboys let Williams’ rookie contract expire, with the Texan product signing with the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

Smith, who could replace him, was also plagued by penalty plays last season. In his senior year of college, as a redshirt sophomore, he drew 16 flags, including 12 holding calls, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler reported.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said he’s not worried about Smith’s penchant for penalties, distinguishing between combative penalties and pre-snap infractions.

“We need to focus on penalties (and) we’ve already taken those steps in our off-season program, in terms of focusing on what we need to do better, especially in the fundamentals area,” McCarthy said. . “Tyler will be part of the program when he gets here. I have no worries.

Jerry Jones said the Cowboys are strongly considering signing a defensive player after early runs on offensive linemen and wide receivers. But with Smith, who Jones said was the team’s 16th-year player, still available at 24, the Cowboys brass quickly reached a consensus.

They declined the trade offers on an NFL Happy Trade Night.

An executive from a team who had offered a trade texted Stephen Jones soon after, he said. The message: “Be glad you didn’t trade with us. He was our guy.

Smith, who grew up in nearby Fort Worth, said he was eager to learn from Pro Bowl-caliber offensive linemen like Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound prospect has impressed NFL evaluators with his physique and footwork, but is considered raw with his hands.

Tyler Smith said he will work to ensure he refines his technique while maintaining his mentality. Blocking, he says, is not meant to be passive.

The Cowboys said this week they don’t have “must-have” draft positions, but the offensive line is arguably their most pressing need. They’re also expected to turn to receiver soon, after trading four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper (865 yards, eight TDs in 2021) to the Cleveland Browns and losing Cedrick Wilson (602 yards, six TDs) in free agency to the Miami. Dolphins.

The Cowboys are also looking for depth at the pass rusher and tight end.

But on a night in which the division rivals strengthened their defensive fronts, the Cowboys believe they made a wise investment in a versatile depth option for the left side of the line and their potentially valuable left tackle of the future. .

“I feel like I brought in a player of this caliber with this offensive line,” Jerry Jones said. “It’s a good decision, and we’re proud of it.”

McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore told Smith over the phone that they were “excited” to bring him into the locker room. Smith, at a nearby Frisco Airbnb with her family, echoed that sentiment.

Afterwards, the North Texas native said to Moore, “Thank you for driving me home.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.