For 30 years, Howard Richards had a long nickname. "The Last Offensive Lineman Drafted in the First Round by the Dallas Cowboys."
He needs a new one now.
The Cowboys took him off the hook Thursday night when they selected Tyron Smith with the ninth pick of the NFL draft, burning a first-rounder on a lineman for the first time since they selected Richards in 1981.
"I didn't mind it," Richards said of the distinction. "It kept my name out there."
Richards did not have the career he, or anyone, expected. But he is at peace with the disappointment of his professional fate.
"I wanted to play 10 years," he said. "Injuries prevented me from doing so. That put a damper on things."
He accepted being called a disappointing pick.
"That's what you live with," he said. "But the players know what I did. To me, that's all that matters. I had a good career."
1. Jerry Jones and Tom Ciskowski must get it right early. The Cowboys want to trade down and pick up an extra pick. What they can't do is try to be too cute and miss an opportunity to take a difference maker. Jones does not want to be drafting in the top ten because that means you have had a bad season. That they are in the top ten means they get a chance to take special player. They need to make the most of this opportunity.
2. The move of Alan Ball back to cornerback from a disappointing turn at safety means the need at safety is even greater. The problem is that that this not a good draft for safeties. The good news is that there is help in free agency. With the league set to open its doors again, free agency could start up very soon. Raiders safety Michael Huff,a former Longhorn, wants to sign with the Cowboys. He is from Irving and said at the Mavs playoff game on Monday that he can't wait to talk to Jerry Jones.
3. Third string quarterback Stephen McGee can rest easy during the draft. The Cowboys will not be searching for his replacement. He should thank Tony Romo and backup Jon Kitna for getting hurt last year, giving him an opportunity to play. He did well enough in the last two games for the Cowboys to decide he is worth investing a little more time in.
4. Marion Barber's future could be decided on what the Cowboys do the next three days. If they take a running back in rounds two or three, he's is all but gone. He has a $500,000 roster bonus due in June and a $4.25 million base salary next season. The Cowboys can avoid paying that by cutting him. Vice-president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys will not have the league's highest payroll in 2011 as they did in 2010. To make that happen they will have to depart with several veterans. Barber, Marc Colombo, Roy Williams, Keith Brooking and Leonard Davis are the prime candidates for roster purges.
5. The Cowboys will probably not draft an end in the first round. But they must come away with one, maybe two defensive ends in the draft just because their numbers are so low at the position. They would love to come away with a potential starter but its not a must as they will re-sign either Stephen Bowen or Jason Hatcher if not both. Still they need more bodies. Kenrick Ellis from Hampton is a mid-round option.
The Cowboys are all but certain to take an offensive tackle with their first pick. It appears they are up their old tricks of paralysis by analysis.
Tyron Smith is regarded as having the best long term potential in the draft among the tackles. He is rated by many as the best tackle in the draft period. He is certainly the most athletic. Yet the Cowboys are leaning toward taking Castonzo because he is considered more consistent and ready to play.
At age 20, Smith is far from a finished product. But he has the tools to be very, very special. He can play right tackle next year and move to left tackle in a year or two, while being a possible Pro Bowl caliber mainstay for years to come.
Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller is the Cowboys' biggest cheerleader.
"Cowboys! Cowboys! Cowboys!” Miller said Wednesday when asked where he hoped to go.
Miller grew up in DeSoto rooting for his hometown team, and he admits he once thought every NFL field had a star at midfield.
“They say, ‘Speak it into existence,’ and I hope I go to the Cowboys,” Miller said. “I’m planning on going to the Cowboys. …If Jerry Jones drafts me, I’ll be the best Cowboy he’s ever had. I promise him that.”
Miller will be long gone by the time the Cowboys draft ninth. He is expected to be drafted second by the Broncos or third by the Bills. He will become the Aggies’ highest-drafted player since linebacker Quentin Coryatt went second overall to the Indianapolis Colts in 1992.
The Cowboys will make no attempt to go up and get him either, having spent first-round picks on Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. They have other needs and likely will invest their first-round pick in an offensive lineman or a defensive end.
"I've done everything I possibly could to put myself in a great situation come draft day," Miller said. "I'm just relaxing and hoping I go to the Cowboys. ...If I can make it til the ninth pick, I'll be happy with that."
Jerry Jones said he does not consider the Cowboys to be a rebuilding team and that it has a good mix of age and youth.
"We have some young players that haven't played as much, technically, that I think have a chance to step in here and contribute," he said Tuesday at a pre-draft press conference. "we've got some young safeties that we've got a chance to see on the field, in our view. We've got a couple young offensive linemen that have a chancd to play. So when I think about the mix that you'd like to have for a team, if you will, that is not rebuilding -- I don't consider us to be rebuilding. I consider us to be a team that's tryng to add to what we've got so we can compete."
Jones said the quarterbacks, Tony Romo, Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee, are an example of his thinking.
"I like the experience of our quarterback. I like the experience of our backup quarterback, candidly, and like the way he played last year. And I like the young quarterback coming along," Jones said. "I like that mix."
Most mock drafts have the Cowboys selecting USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith with the No. 9 overall pick. He, for one, would not be surprised if the Cowboys passed on him by trading down or selecting someone else.
"You never really know where you’re going to go," Smith said. "That’s my mindset right now.
"If that’s where it’s meant to be, then that’s where it’s meant to be."
Smith would be OK with the Cowboys taking him, though. His family would be even happier.
"It's my family's team," said Smith, who didn't have a favorite team growing up. "They always watch the Cowboys. My family has been fans of the Cowboys ever since I was growing up. I’d probably fit in pretty well."
Smith has been the favorite to land in Dallas since Cowboys coach Jason Garrett attended Smith's Pro Day at USC. It was the only Pro Day that Garrett attended. But Garrett has said too much is being made of that. The date fell right for Garrett to attend the workout, and since Smith didn't work out at the combine, Garrett went to watch.
Bet on the Cowboys trying to trade down, and if they find a trade partner, selecting either Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo or Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt.
Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller professed his love for the Cowboys again Wednesday. He will not be one on draft day, no matter how much he wishes it. Miller is expected to go second to Denver or third to Buffalo. He will be long gone before the Cowboys draft ninth. Outside linebacker is not a need for the Cowboys, so they're not going up to get him.
Patrick Peterson is another story.
His chances of playing for his favorite team might not be much better than Miller's, but instead of none, it's slim.
He is a cornerback. A very good cornerback. He might be the safest player in the draft, and some scouts have him rated as the No. 1 player. If he starts falling, the Cowboys could make a play for him. It would fulfill a life-long wish for the LSU star.
"If the Cowboys come and get me, I cannot explain the feeling that I would have," Peterson said Wednesday in New York. "That’s the team I always dreamed of seeing myself playing for. If the Cowboys come up to get me, that means they risk a lot – they put a lot on the table to come up there and get me, so I definitely would go there and give it my all each and every play."
Asked why he wanted to play for the Cowboys, Peterson said: "They’re America’s Team. I mean, Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman. The best played for that team. Playing for that team, just having that star on your helmet. I mean, I know those guys feel good every time they buckle their chin strap and know that you’ve got the star and America is watching you."
The Texans, who need all the defensive help they can get, could attempt to trade up for Peterson or Miller. Both players said that would be OK with them too.
Jerry Jones said he went a long time without worrying about one particular position on the offensive line.
The left tackle.
"In my 22 years, I don’t know that I’ve ever gone to bed worrying about protecting the passer with a left tackle," he said Tuesday at a pre-draft press conference. "That’s been quite a luxury. If you look at Tuinei and stepping on in with what we had in Flozell and we signed Larry Allen to be our left tackle. We moved him out there for a year, and he makes All-Pro. Candidly, we felt we were good about the most important part of protecting the passer."
Last season, Doug Free emerged as the Cowboys’ left tackle, encouraging Jones about the Cowboys’ approach to drafting offensive linemen.
"Not that we’re not pretty proud of Free, but under one set of circumstances we’ve got to sign Free, and in another he might be free," Jones said. "I’m not reluctant to invest a first round pick, as far as my input is concerned, on an offensive lineman."
The Cowboys are thinking about what could happen if there is a run on quarterbacks before they pick at No. 9 in the first round. The team sees it as a good thing.
"If all of a sudden, people said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have a quarterback,’ and they started picking two, three quarterbacks like that, then obviously, that pushes down a good football player at another position to us," Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said. "That’s how it could affect us in a positive way."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said a potential push for quarterbacks could keep the Cowboys on their toes for offers for the No. 9 pick.
"You could literally have some teams trying to get down to get some of those quarterbacks that are high, believe it or not, trying to get down to get some quarterbacks at a better value," he said. "But I agree with Stephen that if the right set of circumstances come along, it takes a pretty good player to move down there, it would be good value for us to consider dropping down there."
But the Cowboys will not be easily sold on a trade, Jerry said.
"It ought to be high-priced for us," he said. "In other words, we ought to ask for the world if we move down."