Mike McCarthy forced Cowboys into paradigm shift in 2020 free agency and draft: It’s ‘players over system’


You heard head coach Mike McCarthy would not be granted power to shape the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff and roster, but you heard wrong. You then heard — going into the 2020 NFL Draft — owner Jerry Jones would be all alone with no outside influence but, yet again, you heard wrong. It’s to-be-determined what falsehood you’ll hear next, but it’s become increasingly clear McCarthy has not only been awarded plenty of power within the Cowboys organization, but that he’s also already begun using it to convince the brass to redesign their antiquated and mostly unsuccessful blueprint. 

When Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay said earlier this offseason things would be done “a bit different”, jaded fans of the Cowboys and media covering them were rightfully apprehensive in believing him. After a mostly impressive free agency haul and a draft class that’s being heralded by many as “one of the best” in Cowboys history, including by Jones himself, anyone who still suspects McCarthy is on the sidelines also likely points at the sun and asks why the moon is so warm.

In speaking with 105.3 FM the Fan immediately following a draft that included grabbing CeeDee Lamb at No. 17 and Trevon Diggs at No. 51, the team is riding a wave of momentum heading into the 2020 season, and McClay points a large foam finger at McCarthy for freeing him from the prison of acquiring talent based solely upon scheme. McClay, who joined the Cowboys in 2009 as Pro Scouting Coordinator before being elevated through the ranks to his current post, has never seen an offseason in Dallas without Jason Garrett at or near the top of the coaching totem.

And his first conversation with McCarthy about personnel literally made him giddy.

“This was a unique situation,” McClay said. “We’ve been with the same staff and had an understanding of them — their likes and dislikes. So [now] you get a new coach, a new staff comes in, and we started entertaining what they wanted and what they were looking for in free agency, but one of the first things McCarthy said that made me jump up and down was, ‘Players over scheme. We [have to] have a scheme diverse enough to handle taking good players and figuring out where they fit.’

“That was a unique thing to hear a coach say. Most of it is system-based when they look at things. So that opened the door for a lot of things.”

This mirrors a confession from team exec Stephen Jones, who admitted there was a “philosophical change” in the era following Jason Garrett and long-time defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, one that led to the signing of Gerald McCoy, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and, more specifically, Dontari Poe to beef up the defensive interior. McCarthy and newly-added defensive coordinator Mike Nolan have consistently preached about fielding the “best 11” players over simply glueing the team to a scheme, and their offseason acquisitions are early trophies in the race to upheave a dated way of thinking from the previous decade. 

From Lamb to Diggs, from Clinton-Dix and McCoy to Poe, and the fact McCarthy would almost literally not let Jerry Jones pass on trading up to land Tyler Biadasz — it’s a new day in Dallas and McClay is enjoying every moment of it thus far. McClay and McCarthy have established quite the bond already, speaking frequently about everything from football to fishing, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to label them fast friends.

The team’s resident scouting guru now has the freedom to get the most talented players available and then task McCarthy with building a scheme around them, as McCarthy insists, versus shoehorning players in and/or outright passing on elite talent altogether simply because there’s supposedly no spot for them. Remember when the Cowboys drafted the now-traded Taco Charlton over eventual two-time All-Pro pass rusher T.J. Watt, all because the former was allegedly a better fit for what Marinelli wanted to see on defense?

So does McClay, and you now understand his excitement for the future. 





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