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Sunday, April 19, 1998

Passing on Moss shows image is everything in Dallas

By Randy Galloway / The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- By using a little imagination and by listening closely ons Saturday, you could hear the heavy slamming of a Valley Ranch door.

A troubled talent like Randy Moss was lurking in the neighborhood, meaning he was available for drafting. But with the Dallas Cowboys, Moss wasn't welcome, a rejection that started his free fall until deep in the first round.

But this symbolic door slam wasn't necessarily about a Randy Moss being greeted by a Valley Ranch deadbolt. Instead of "No Moss," what the Cowboys actually were saying was "No Mas." As in no more of the Evil Empire days and old ways. As in a potential problem not being worth the risk.

Jerry Jones has been trying to convince a skeptical audience that character and image do count, and that character and image reconstruction now is taking place at Valley Ranch.

Maybe Jones was trying to prove that point when Moss was never seriously considered as the Cowboys picked eighth in the first round. Or maybe the Moss rejection was actually an over-reaction by a franchise that has suffered immense image damage.

But even if Moss eventually becomes an all-pro receiver and an all-pro person in Minnesota, there can be no criticism of the Cowboys for trying to do right with the right kind of players.

Draft-wise, the selection of North Carolina defensive end Greg Ellis will be viewed as a "reach." The second-guess will be that a trade down from eighth could have found Ellis still available at the 12th spot or maybe the 15th.

But the Valley Ranch reasoning on why the Cowboys went with Ellis is actually based on sound logic, or as Jones put it, "safe" logic.

"To say a team ÔREACHED' is a media term," defensive line coach Jim Bates said. "But the value placed on this particular position (defensive end) in this draft, and in every draft, speaks to something else.

"There is a reason three of them (Andre Wadsworth, Grant Wistrom and Ellis) went in the first eight. And when we had a chance at one of those three, and with the talent level at a deep drop-off after those three, how could we take a chance with a trade down?

"Greg Ellis is not a reach. Greg Ellis is the player we needed."

With no chance at Florida State's Wadsworth, the Cowboys had zeroed in on Wistrom of Nebraska. But in the past week, it was obvious Wistrom had climbed the draft board. He wasn't going to be available for the Cowboys. That left plenty of time for the scouting department, head coach Chan Gailey and Bates to thoroughly research the 6-6, 280-pound Ellis.

The Cowboys went into Saturday's draft knowing for a week Ellis was going to be their man. Therefore, any excuse among the football people is eliminated if he doesn't become a defensive cornerstone. Ellis simply has to be the right pick.

But why go first round with a defensive player?

One of the great myths of last season's 6-10 debacle is that the Cowboys played well on defense. They didn't. They couldn't stop the run, they couldn't rush the passer and the No. 2 defensive ranking in the league was strictly a product of other teams grinding out yardage instead of collecting it in big chunks. Only 67 yards a game separated the No. 2 Cowboys from the No. 29 ranked defense.

The Dallas offense was so bad it made the defense appear better than it was. Mainly, Dave Campo and his defensive staff did a miracle job of scheming.

Overall, this was a draft where defensive end was the No. 1 need on a team with a multitude of needs. The Cowboys project Ellis to be a combination pass-rusher and run-stopper. That projection must become reality.

Receiver, however, certainly ranked high on the list of wants. Talent-wise, Moss was the answer, and he was a fit at No. 8. But if the Cowboys had selected Moss, then football immediately takes a back seat to a rehash of all past image problems for the team, combined with Moss being under an intense spotlight in this town. Frankly, Moss to Dallas was not a good fit for either party, but particularly not for Jones, who is attempting to correct his past mistakes that led to the Cowboys' image downfall.

There was a prime reason why Gailey, Jones and Bates repeatedly mixed in references to Ellis' character while also discussing his football ability.

Jones told of seeking an Ellis reference from new Texas Coach Mack Brown, who just departed North Carolina.

"Mack told me," Jones said, "that if he suddenly died, he would want Greg Ellis to adopt his children. That's the kind of man Greg is."

The Cowboys closed one door on Saturday, but opened another. "Give it time," added Bates, "and you will see this was the right pick."

The clock started ticking Saturday.


(Randy Galloway is a sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Write to him at: Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, Dallas, Texas 75265.)


(c) 1998, The Dallas Morning News.

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All content copyright 1998, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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