“Right Kind of Guy”: Analyzing the Gray Colors in Dallas’ Roster-Building Philosophy

Last Tuesday third-year linebacker Damien Wilson gave the Cowboys another public relations and reputation black eye when he was arrested on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

NOTE: This article is also the topic of today’s CowboysCast HERE.

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Whether you feel it’s legitimate, or simply pretext borne out of hatred for the star, it is Dallas’ public reputation. It’s tough to say the reputation is completely unwarranted, given Dallas’ league office rap sheet over the last few seasons. Since 2014, no team has lost more games to suspension (100) had more suspensions handed down (15) and had more individual players suspended (11) than the Cowboys.

Those numbers have the potential to balloon even more, with assault cases pending against Wilson and Jourdan Lewis, a DWI charge against Nolan Carroll, and the never-ending league investigation of Ezekiel Elliott.

While these numbers are disconcerting, the impact has been compounded for some Cowboys fans by one of Jason Garrett’s favorite phrases: right kinda guy.

It’s a vague attribute Garrett often ascribes to newly acquired players. It’s something Garrett has acknowledged looking for as he attempts to build a Super Bowl contender. And with the recent character questions that fans and analysts have raised about a large swath of Dallas’ players, it’s also become a bit of a punchline for Garrett critics. After every arrest, suspension, or grainy TMZ photo, opponents of Dallas’ head coach will spit it back at him with venom.

“Right kinda guy, my eye!”

That is usually followed by some sort of insistence that Jimmy Johnson would have never stood for that type of behavior, or that Tom Landry would have gotten that player on the straight and narrow in a heartbeat.

But is it fair to mock Garrett for using the phrase? Is the criticism of Garrett’s favorite attribute nothing more than a fundamental misunderstanding of what it’s supposed to mean? It’s a bit of a wiggly word, allowing for a moving definition whenever it proves convenient.

Today, let’s take a look at the various meanings of the phrase, “right kinda guy,” and attempt to nail down what exactly it means when coming out of Garrett’s mouth.

#1 The Boy Scout

Probably the most common interpretation of the phrase, by both fan and foe of the Cowboys.

This definition requires players to be Reggie White, or Andrew Luck types: a strong moral compass to pair with their all-world talent. This RKG will never be arrested or fail a drug test. He’ll be in for curfew on every road trip, and his offseason will be a quiet one, free from any tabloid gossip. He’ll be generous of his time with fans, probably run his own charity, and you’ll never find a six-year old tweet going viral for all the wrong reasons.

Example: Jason Witten

Witten is a player who fits this definition to a T. A Hall-of-Fame stat line on the field, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks Witten is anything less than an admirable man off the field. We’re banning Martellus Bennett from this discussion.

Garrett grade for this interpretation: D-

Outside of Witten, Travis Frederick, and perhaps Dak Prescott, there really isn’t anyone on the roster who checks all of these boxes. You could perhaps include the other two stars on the offensive line, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, but their reputations seem to be more that of quiet and/or private rather than active followers of the mantra.

#2 The Leader

We’re probably getting a little warmer with this definition.

This RKG is a passionate player who others in the locker room gravitate towards. If you were to go digging for skeletons, he probably wouldn’t ever be able to run for public office, but he learns from his mistakes and is far from a bad guy. He puts in the work on the practice field and in the film room. He pushes others to better themselves on Sundays. You’ll never see him throwing a teammate under the bus in post-game interviews, and he’s more than willing to shoulder the blame for a loss when the media comes looking for blood.

Example: Dez Bryant

Bryant has certainly had some immature moments since entering the public consciousness at Oklahoma State in 2007, but it has been incredibly satisfying and inspiring to watch him grow as a man over the last seven years. Bryant is as hard a worker as the Cowboys have, and there is no one in the league who strives to be a leader who others look up to as much as he does.

Garrett grade for this interpretation: B-

Bryant and DeMarcus Lawrence are two names that spring to mind under this definition. It’s hard to find a huge collection of ultra-talented Eagle Scouts, but it’s easy to avoid the land mines of deviancy when assessing talent. Garrett has done a solid job of adding the guys who fall in the middle: players committed to their craft, who aren’t perfect people (no one is) but try to better themselves daily.

#3 The Puzzle Piece

This definition may not be the one Garrett means when he says, “right kinda guy,” but it’s definitely been the definition that has been put into practice by the Cowboys.

This definition is simple: you make the team better on Sunday. Whether you need a superstar pass rusher, a solid starting receiver, or a rotational corner, this RKG is brought in to deliver exactly what Dallas requests of him on the field. He could be the hardest-working player in practice, or he could be a loaf. He could be in bed by 9pm every night, or he could be all over Snapchat sharing all the details of his 3am partying on a Tuesday. He could have the most reliable urine sample on the team, or he could be breaking the bank every year in masking agents. It doesn’t matter. Who he is Monday through Saturday means almost nothing. Show up on Sunday, do your job well, and you’re the right kinda guy.

Example: Cole Beasley and Orlando Scandrick

Using these two as examples is not to show that they are anything alike, which is why they both fit this definition. Scandrick has started to deteriorate, but both players have done their jobs reliably for several years now. Beasley enjoys his privacy, and Scandrick has made frequent appearances in internet gossip over the years. Beasley has a goofy, fun-loving reputation, while Scandrick can be surly, and is thought to have a bit of a mean streak. Beasley has never been tied to drug problems, while Scandrick served a two-game suspension after testing positive for MDMA (Ecstasy) in 2014, which would have netted him a felony charge in Texas. The point is they both are the “right kinda guy” under this definition, because this RKG simply helps you win football games, everything else be damned.

Garrett grade for this interpretation: A

Garrett and the rest of the Cowboys personnel department get an A under this definition, because it’s directly tied to your success as a team. Dallas has won at least 12 games twice in the last three years, and clinched the #1 seed for the first time since 2007 last year. Most players on the roster help to comprise this definition, including players who fell under the first two definitions.

So which one does Garrett mean when he talks about the “right kinda guy?” It’s a lot of #2, with a little bit of #3.

Garrett spoke about his philosophy in a 2011 interview with Stephanie Turner (Norv Turner’s daughter) that was transcribed by BloggingTheBoys.com:

“My experience as a player and a coach in this league is that talent is really important. When we won those Super Bowls in Dallas in the 90s we had some very talented players. But I’ll go to my grave saying, what makes Troy Aikman great is who he is, as much as the talent that he has. I can say that for Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston and go down the list. Darren Woodson, all the great players that we had on those teams, they were the right kind of guys.

They loved to play. They were talented, but they loved to play and they were great teammates. We’re not living in the past, but we’re trying to recreate that model. So as talented a guy as you can get, there’s also the right kind of guy who can fit into your team and make the chemistry of your team right. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Garrett pretty clearly states in that quote that he wants good football players on his team, but he doesn’t want them at the expense of locker room chemistry. What Garrett wants to do and what Garrett actually does are two separate things, however. The phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” has survived generations in the American lexicon, and Garrett’s RKG philosophy embodies that sentiment. While Garrett can say he doesn’t want square pegs for the round holes of locker chemistry, the cases of Rolando McClain, Joseph Randle, and Greg Hardy, defiantly laugh in his face.

McClain came to Dallas with loads of uncertainty and a poor reputation, but performed at a high level for much of 2014. He trailed off in the latter part of the season, though, and there were those inside and outside the locker room who thought it was a bad omen and time to move on. Those concerns were ignored and McClain returned on a one-year deal. A failed drug test meant McClain would miss the season’s first four games, and he never came close to playing at 2014 levels. The opponents of McClain inside the walls of Valley Ranch grew innumerably, and yet he was once again brought back on a one-year deal. McClain no-showed at OTAs, and didn’t play a single snap for the Cowboys in 2016. It was a genuine distraction in June when Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli were being peppered with daily questions about McClain’s absence. One might forgive the 2015 contract, but the established definition of RKG demands getting rid of players like McClain following his 2015 showing.

Hardy’s well-documented off-the-field issues were serious enough that Dallas was reportedly just one of three teams even willing to entertain signing him (Seattle and Tampa the others). But while 29 other teams refused to even speak to Hardy, the Cowboys were in desperate need of a pass rusher in 2015. Hardy, for all of his sins, could get to the quarterback. Hardy’s can’t possibly qualify for any other RKG definition other than the “Puzzle Piece.” Dallas had a need on Sundays that Hardy could fill, and they weren’t about to let a serious legal rap sheet and locker room divisiveness stop them from having him fill it.

Randle may be the most egregious case of them all. When Randle was arrested for shoplifting during the 2014 season, Dallas was in the middle of feeding DeMarco Murray a team-record 392 carries. The Cowboys didn’t need Randle, and the financial implications of his release would be inconsequential. The Cowboys liked his potential though, and they weren’t about to pay Murray $8,000,000 per season. They overlooked the red flags, and the in-fighting that followed, so that they could tap him as their starter in 2015. The issues grew so large and so serious that they couldn’t afford to overlook them any further, releasing him midway through a disastrous 4-12 campaign. If Garrett religiously implemented his established definition of RKG, Randle would have been released 12 months earlier than he was.

Garrett got his feet wet as a coach with the Dolphins, where he spent two years hearing about the Patriot way from former Browns-era Belichick assistant Nick Saban. Scott Pioli, now a member of the Falcons front office, spent nearly 20 years helping to craft that philosophy before being named General Manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. “It’s not necessarily the best 53 players it’s the right 53 players,” Pioli remarked at his first press conference with the Chiefs.

That remark from Pioli jibes with what Garrett said in 2011 to Turner, and it’s very clearly what he seeks to do when building a team that can compete for a Super Bowl. But as humans we occasionally stray from our best intentions and give into temptations; Garrett’s has been no different in his acquisition of talent. So while Garrett’s use of RKG means definition #2, it has occasionally been foolishly sacrificed at the altar of #3.

In the end, Garrett’s biggest RKG problem comes down to semantics. He’s using a term rather flippantly, not understanding or caring how it is interpreted by the masses. Perhaps you’re reading this, nodding your head and saying, “and it doesn’t matter how it’s interpreted!” One of former President Barack Obama’s most well-known speeches occurred during the Democratic Primary in 2008. “Don’t tell me words don’t matter,” he emphatically told a group of Wisconsin voters. And whether you were a fan of his presidency or not, you have to respect the sentiment: our words matter a great deal. Garrett’s words matter a great deal to public perception, and in turn, matter a great deal to the scrutiny that he and his players face.

A flippant use of words, such as, “right kinda guy,” can absolutely lead to distractions. Whenever a player or a coach is forced to answer something that isn’t about football, it’s a distraction. And those questions become much more frequent when you talk about the right kinda guys, and have your players parade around the locker in ’17 shirts.

At 100 games lost, 15 suspensions handed down, and 11 players slapped on the wrist by Roger Goodell, it’s time to find a new way to describe the players you want in your locker room.

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