VALLEY RANCH, Texas — Assistant director of player personnel Will McClay runs the draft room of the Dallas Cowboys.
He has been touted as smart, thorough and well-prepared.
So when the excitement surrounding the Cowboys 16th overall pick Thursday night collided with the availability of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, there was no flinching by McClay.
The Cowboys resisted the temptation of Manziel — who was the No. 2 quarterback on the team’s board behind Blake Bortles of Central Florida, the third overall pick to Jacksonville — in favor of the sound football move, which was selecting Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin.
Nevermind that Manziel seemed to be a perfect for Jones, the ultimate marketer and eternal salesman who thrives on the energy of a sold out Cowboys Stadium.
Sure, the pick would have led SportsCenter and dominated the blogosphere.
But the Cowboys are still one of the league’s most-watched teams even though they have failed to make the playoffs the last four years and are coming off three straight 8-8 seasons.
The Cowboys came into the draft looking to change their fortunes by improving a
defense that was not only worst in the league last season but the worst in team history.
But with their top defensive targets off the board — UCLA defensive end Anthony Barr to Minnesota at No. 9, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald went to St. Louis 13th and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier two picks later — the Cowboys did the next best thing.
They drafted Martin, a versatile offensive lineman who could be the top guard or second-ranked tackle in this draft, to help what is already a dynamic offense and give franchise quarterback Tony Romo more protection.
“One of my biggest things is my versatility,” Martin said. “Any thing I can do to help the team is what I’m willing to do.”
Recall Romo is coming off back surgery for the second straight offseason and turns 34 in 2014.
Some wondered why the Cowboys didn’t push to get a pass rusher after DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher moved on. But with 10 more picks in the draft, there is time to focus on defense the rest of the way, starting with the second and third rounds Friday.
This is the third time in four years that the Cowboys have taken an offensive lineman in the first round.
That is quite a change for a team that didn’t take an offensive lineman in the first round from 1989-2010.
Martin joins left tackle Tyron Smith in 2011 and center Travis Frederick in 2013.
Look the Cowboys to plug Martin in at right guard next to Doug Free with a possible move to tackle in 2015 when Free becomes a free agent. Martin said they spoke to him about playing guard Thursday night.