The Dallas Cowboys Reportedly Refused to Draft Jerry Rice Over Concerns Regarding His Intelligence

The Dallas Cowboys have had no shortage of explosive receivers, including 2020 first-round pick CeeDee Lamb, over the years. If Pro Football Hall of Fame wideout Drew Pearson is to be believed, the franchise stubbornly whiffed on having Jerry Rice in that club.

Over the years, there have been different explanations and stories explaining why America Team didn’t wind up selecting Rice in the 1985 NFL Draft. However, Pearson provided a version of the tale which makes the Cowboys look like the New York Jets.

The Dallas Cowboys reportedly refused to draft Jerry Rice over his intelligence

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice playing against the Dallas Cowboys in 1995.
Did the Dallas Cowboys pass on drafting Jerry Rice because of his intelligence? Drew Pearson says that’s the case | Joseph Patronite/Getty Images

Long before he polluted the airwaves with nonsense on FS1’s Undisputed, Skip Bayless rose to prominence as a columnist who spent decades covering the Cowboys.

In July 1990, Bayless published a book, God’s Coach: The Hymns, Hype, and Hypocrisy of Tom Landry’s Cowboys, detailing what he’d seen and heard in his years around the organization. He painted Landry, the franchise’s longtime head coach, as someone far more human and flawed than the mythical and flawless coach who sportswriters and TV broadcasts made him out to be.

Bayless spent part of the book criticizing Landry and Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ vice president of player personnel, for their decisions and drafting in the 1980s. The veteran sportswriter accused both of being stubborn, both in contract negotiations and when it came to adding new players.

Pearson, who entered the Hall of Fame earlier this year, lent credence to Bayless’ argument. The two-time Super Bowl champion worked as a scout from 1984-85 and told the author that Brandt “dominated” the war room and often refused to draft players over fears regarding their intelligence.

“They [Landry and Brandt] even talked bad about Jerry Rice. Jerry Rice! The best receiver in football today. They said his IQ wasn’t high enough. I’m not saying a guy can be a dummy, but they always found company guys who never complained.”

The San Francisco 49ers clearly didn’t care about Rice’s intelligence, and they selected the future Hall of Famer 16th overall in the 1985 NFL Draft. The Cowboys drafted defensive tackle Kevin Brooks one pick later.

Brandt has insisted the Cowboys were concerned over Rice’s speed

Pearson’s accusation is certainly an explosive one. Rice proved himself as a student of the game who later found ways to give defenses fits even as he hit his late 30s and early 40s.

Brandt, to his credit, has never disputed that some in the Cowboys’ war room were torn about taking Rice in 1985. However, the story he’s shared over the years has never really been about the legendary receiver’s intelligence.

According to Brandt, the Cowboys instead found themselves concerned with Rice’s speed. The team considered the Mississippi Valley State star’s 4.6 40-yard dash time less than ideal. However, Cowboys scout Ron Marciniak fought for Rice, and the team prepared to select him with the 17th overall pick.

One could argue that in the end, it didn’t matter because the 49ers selected Rice. At the same time, one could also challenge that the Cowboys may have had more incentive to trade up for the future All-Pro wideout if those in the room unanimously agreed on the proposed selection. Whatever the case, Rice went to San Francisco and became one of the greatest players in league history.

Cowboys fans can only dream of Rice and Michael Irvin teaming up together

Alternate universes sound fun, but one has to then think about cause and effect. The Cleveland Browns fans who think the franchise would have become a dynasty if the team drafted Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes should know better by now.

Still, we’re willing to throw Cowboys fans a slight bone here. The team drafted Miami Hurricanes star wideout Michael Irvin 11th overall in the 1988 NFL Draft. Perhaps another reality exists where Cowboys traded up for Rice and, a few years later, partnered him with The Playmaker.

We may never know what really happened in the Cowboys’ war room in 1985. Pearson has his side of the story, Brandt has his version, and the Cowboys returned to Super Bowl contention when both left the organization.

Rice, by the way, recorded 62 catches for 940 yards and nine total touchdowns — eight receiving, one rushing — in 10 regular-season games against the Cowboys. The legendary wideout hauled in 16 catches for 242 yards and two scores across three postseason matchups with America’s Team. Not bad for someone whose speed and, potentially, intelligence scared the Cowboys at first.

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