NFL

Stephen Jones Explains Why T.J. Watt Will Haunt the Dallas Cowboys for Years To Come

Former college basketball coach Abe Lemons once lamented that a doctor’s mistakes die but his remained on scholarship for four years. Stephen Jones and the Dallas Cowboys got rid of a mistake in just a little more than two years, but it will continue to haunt them until the day Pittsburgh Steelers star T.J. Watt retires.

Drafting Taco Charlton was a huge Dallas Cowboys blunder

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Taking Michigan linebacker Taco Charlton late in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft certainly looked like a good move on paper for the Dallas Cowboys. The team was coming off a 13-3 season and didn’t appear to have a lot of needs.

With the exception of interceptions, the Cowboys were in the middle of the pack or better in most defensive categories. To address that, owner Jerry Jones and son Stephen Jones, the team’s executive vice president, sought an edge rusher to put more heat on quarterbacks.

By virtue of the exceptional 2016 season, the Cowboys drafted 28th in the first round. There had already been a run on defensive ends and outside linebackers by that point, beginning with Myles Garrett to the Cleveland Browns at No. 1 and Solomon Thomas to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 3. But there was still worthwhile talent on the board, including Wisconsin standout T.J. Watt.

But when it came their turn, the Cowboys opted for Charlton, who was coming off a 10-sack senior year at Michigan despite an early-season ankle sprain. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, he looked sturdy enough to hold up against the run and powerful enough to get to the quarterback.

It was a decision the Cowboys would come to regret.

Taco Charlton couldn’t make an impact

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Left defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence missed half his rookie season in 2014 with an injury and served a four-game suspension for a substance abuse policy violation in 2016. In between, be registered eight sacks in 2015 to show his potential. Whether it was the arrival of Taco Charlton or some other factor at play, Lawrence emerged as a major disruptive force in 2017 with 14.5 sacks and 58 tackles.

Lawrence added 10.5 sacks and 64 tackles the following season to effectively keep Charlton glued to the bench. Charlton did log seven starts at right end, but he was frequently subbed for in passing situations. With four sacks and 46 stops in two seasons, Charlton took on the appearance of a $10 million ($7.73 million guaranteed) mistake.

After not cracking the game-day roster the first two weeks in 2019, Charlton complained on social media and was released. He landed that same week with the Miami Dolphins, where he made five starts, and is a backup with the Kansas City Chiefs this season.

And to think that the Cowboys could have had T.J. Watt instead.

The Dallas Cowboys missed out on T.J. Watt

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Appearing on KRLD-FM this week, Stephen Jones explained that the decision in 2017 to draft Taco Charlton over T.J. Watt, who went two picks later to the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a tough call. However, Charlton looked better-suited to defend the run in then-coordinator Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defense.

It certainly didn’t play out that way. Watt averaged 11.5 sacks and 59 tackles from 2017-19. He’s off to another strong start entering the Steelers’ Week 9 contest against the Cowboys.

Would Cowboys executive Stephen Jones like a do-over in order to select Watt?

“Absolutely,” Jones admitted. “You always do that if you’re truthful and you’re honest about what might could have been. The harder part of that is he was in serious contention.”

The Cowboys will have to live with their mistake for as long as Watt is disrupting opposing NFL offenses.

“He’s obviously a great player, he’s already on his way to a great career like his brother. I congratulate the Steelers for getting him.”

Stephen Jones

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference