“Do people really think the Dallas Cowboys are that stupid?’’ Stewart says to me, chuckling as he checks in by phone from a coaches’ symposium in Florida. “Do people think we are really that sloppy?’’
Stewart is responding to all that buzz surrounding a local TV station’s pre-NFL Draft filming of Stewart and head coach Wade Phillips in a Valley Ranch meeting room. Stillshots of the session revealed that behind the coaches was a dry-erase board that – unbelievably! Could we believe our eyes? – listed Dallas’ preferences among the top draftable cornerbacks.
In late March, millions of Cowboys fans around the world pressed their faces up against their computer monitors and maybe saw scribbled on that board. …
1. Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie, Tennessee State
2. Leodis McKelvin, Troy
3. Kenny Phillips, Miami
4. Mike Jenkins, USF
5. Aqib Talib, Kansas
6. Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State
7. Charles Godfrey, Iowa
What was that? A projection of the Cowboys’ thoughts on the order they’d end up going? Dallas’ own preferred rankings? Could it have been a trick, devised by the clever combo of Phillips and Stewart, to throw the NFL competition off the scent? Jerry Jones, intentionally letting a film crew – which does bill itself, after all, as “The Cowboys Station’’ – create a diversion, a fake, a decoy?
“Did people really think that?’’ says Stewart, and yes, he’s still laughing. “Now, we’re not dumb enough to let our draft board get shown on TV. But we’re not smart enough to let a fake get shown. … Hey, we were too busy studying players to be goofing around like that!’’
So what was it?
“That was a list of the guys’ combined scores from the Scouting Combine,’’ Stewart explains to us. “We’d taken their raw numbers – 40 times, shuttle times, stuff like that – and just added up the measurables. And then we slapped them up on the board and talked about them for a few minutes. That’s all.’’
No, it wasn’t in the War Room. It wasn’t anything especially revealing. It meant. … nothing.
“Well, it meant a little something because Mike Jenkins was on that board,’’ says Stewart, and now he’s only half-kidding. “Jenkins was on that list somewhere, right? He really made perfect sense for us at that spot, in every way – his talent, our needs, really a good fit.’’
How much of the Cowboys’ decision to select Jenkins was impacted by the plan to have Pacman Jones in a Dallas uniform?
“We really looked at it like two separate issues,’’ says Stewart, a secondary coach under Phillips when both were in San Diego and now starting his second season as a defensive coordinator. “ The assemblage of talent in the secondary is a priority. So we needed to go through our draft as if Pacman wasn’t involved, because we didn’t know his status. We still don’t know his status, except that he is a brilliant talent.
“But Terence (Newman), (Ken) Hamlin, Anthony Henry, Jenkins, Roy (Williams), the rest of the guys. … that has a chance to be a special group.’’
Special, but not without questions. Jenkins is raw. Pacman isn’t cleared yet. And Roy Williams?
You’ve already heard one of this week’s Roy stories. Teammate Greg Ellis, speaking to Sirius Radio, said, “Roy told me in training camp, 'Greg, this defense does not fit me. I don't fit in well with this defense at all.’’
And off the MSM runs, making Williams out to be some sort of malcontent.
Now here’s another Roy story: I recently bumped into a close friend of his, an NFL star on another team. I mentioned that I was a sportswriter in Dallas, and the guy’s immediate response was telling: “Oh, you’re one of those guys who rips Roy apart, huh?’’
That’s Williams’ chip-on-his-shoulder mood right now, and it’s up to him to determine whether he uses the chip as inspiration or whether the chip becomes his albatross.
“I'm tired about worrying about the fans," Williams said to the Dallas Morning News after he met with a concerned Stewart upon the coach’s late-week return to Dallas. “The fans are only around when things are good. I want supporters. At the end of the day, we're human beings, too. Everything can't be perfect, and you can't let your emotions rule over you being a human being. It gets to a point where you are abusing who you really are as a fan.’’
Roy’s focus is. … well, bizarre. Amid rumors that Cowboys management is tiring of Williams’ less-than-All-Pro-level play are two foundation points: One, he is still playing under the terms of a five-year, $25-million contract extension, which binds him to the Cowboys through 2010. And two, Brian Stewart is trying to collect good defensive backs, not dump ‘em. That’s why he met with the player.
Stewart clearly likes having all these talented Cowboys names scribbled up on his dry-erase board.