Miami Dolphins

Blueprint For Success: How the Cowboys were built (and what the Dolphins can learn)

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Blueprint for Success: How the Dolphins’ 2019 opponents were built

Our weekly series that examines how the Miami Dolphins’ 2019 opponents built their roster, and what lessons Miami can glean as they build theirs.

This is the third of a series that examines how Miami’s 2019 opponents built their rosters, and what lessons the Dolphins can glean as they build theirs.

Team: Dallas Cowboys.

Coach: Jason Garrett (ninth season).

General manager: Jerry Jones (31st season).

Team owner: Jerry Jones.

Franchise value: $5.5 billion.

2018 record: 10-6 (first in the NFC East).

Last playoff appearance: 2018 (lost in the Divisional Round).

Last Super Bowl championship: 1995.

Total 2019 payroll: $184.3 million (24th).

Total 2019 AAV: $172.5 million (24th).

Salary cap space: $24.4 million (ninth).

Dead money: $6.5 million (25th most).

Percentage of home-grown players: 68.

Overview: There’s a debate who the Cowboys’ Most Valuable Player is — Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott. But there’s little doubt who their Most Valuable Employee is: Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay. Since taking over the Cowboys’ draft in 2014, he has hit home run after home run. As the Dallas Morning News pointed out in May, McClay has picked six future Pro Bowlers: Elliott, Prescott, Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones and Leighton Vander Esch. He did his best work in 2016, finding a franchise quarterback (Prescott), an All-Pro running back (Elliott), a star linebacker (Jaylon Smith) and a starting defensive tackle (Maliek Collins). He has helped build one of the five best rosters in league despite drafting in the top 10 just once in the past seven years. And here’s the truly incredible part of the Cowboys’ operation: They have a loaded roster and $89 million in cap space next year. Now, much of that will be eaten up by a Prescott extension or franchise tag. Plus receiver Amari Cooper will need a new deal. But their window to win is now and probably the next two years. With Prescott earning just $2 million this year, it has allowed them to pay five non-quarterbacks $10 million-plus, including DeMarcus Lawrence, who by the end of the season will have collected nearly one-third of his five-year, $105 million deal. The Cowboys really won’t have a middle class in 2020, but that’s OK. Of their 35 draft picks since 2016, 20 are still on their roster. Of their eight 2018 Pro Bowlers, only Cooper was not an original Cowboys draft pick.

The lesson: Break into Jerry’s vault, steal the Cowboys’ college scouting secrets and try to apply them to Miami. But if that’s not possible, stay true to your principles in drafting. And fully maximize the most valuable asset in the NFL: a franchise quarterback on his rookie deal. If that means paying your other stars a year or two early to get ahead on accounting, do it.

He said it: “I think drafting is a challenge for everybody. Obviously, you’re evaluating players who are playing at one level and you’re projecting to see how they’re going to play at the next level. It’s a challenge for everybody all across the league, with every pick that you make. I think for us, the biggest thing we try to emphasize is having a vision for our team and what kind of team we wanted to have and what kind of guys we felt made up that team, the kind of people they are, first and foremost. And then, the physical characteristics they need to play at each position. We’ve tried to be disciplined to that. We have not been perfect by any means, but the more disciplined we’ve been to those principles, the better we’ve selected. We’ve brought a lot of guys in here who love football, who want to be part of the team and they’re certainly a joy to coach each and every day.” — Cowboys coach Jason Garrett