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Cowboys talent chief Will McClay on 2020: ‘We need our impact players to make impact plays’

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones introduces new head coach Mike McCarthy during a news conference Jan. 8 at Ford Center at the Star. [Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports]
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones introduces new head coach Mike McCarthy during a news conference Jan. 8 at Ford Center at the Star. [Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports]

MOBILE, Ala. — Despite having a roster that many inside and outside the organization believed would contend for a Super Bowl title, the Dallas Cowboys’ vice president of player personnel Will McClay, the man tasked with assembling the talent, questioned whether the talent was up to the task.

“If we don’t get to where we’re going, that talent’s not good enough,” McClay said, adding that the team needed to improve in both the building the talent and the use of it. “We have to get better at that. … We need our impact players to make impact plays.”

The process of finding more of those impact players is underway with McClay attending the Senior Bowl, the annual showcase that has become a staple of the Cowboys’ pre-draft process.

McClay held a wide-ranging interview with local reporters on Wednesday, talking in-depth about how the talent evaluation process may evolve under new coach Mike McCarthy and reaffirming that the team believes Dak Prescott is the quarterback who can get the organization to the next level.

On how player evaluations may change with McCarthy: “I don’t think it changes. We’re always looking for better football players. There might be some tweaks on what we’re looking for but at the end of the day, as Jerry (Jones) said the other day, we organizationally set the standard for what we’re looking for player-wise. We’ve got coaches who will be able to put them in the right spot.”

On his reaction to McCarthy’s hiring: “There was sadness at first because we spent a bunch of time with those coaches over there. It’s a cut-throat business. That’s the way it is. We value those guys, but now it’s another opportunity for us to grow. We’ve been doing the same thing for a long time and now we have an opportunity to continue to grow and hopefully get better.”

On if he had input on McCarthy’s hiring, or if it was the Joneses’ decision: “We talked about a lot of things and it was a Jerry and Stephen decision, but I had an opportunity to know things about certain guys and have a part in the process. That was important.”

On the new coaching staff’s input on existing personnel: “It’s always good to get an outside (opinion),” McClay said. And since McCarthy and most of the other coaches are new, McClay sought out their opinion on the roster. He said they also met with the team’s pro department, and discussed players and how they could best be used. “We’ve got to understand how they want to use guys and the value of different positions.”

On Jason Garrett going to the Giants: “He’s a good football coach and a good man. They’ve got a guy who’s going to do a good job for them. He’s going to compete and he’s going to want to beat the Cowboys and we’re going to want to go give it to the Giants.”

On the team’s biggest needs this offseason: “I think we have to understand what we’re doing schematically and where can we get the most impact for the buck. You can’t have a good secondary if you don’t have a good line. You can’t have a good line if you don’t have a good secondary,” McClay said. “All those things go into putting a team together.” There’s no textbook way to do it, but he said, “I think the way to do it is to evaluate guys the right way, give them the right value, be that in free agency or the draft. Then, once you pick them, we coach them and get a chance to see.”

On his evaluation of the Cowboys’ safeties: “It’s a developing position. I don’t think we’re the greatest. I don’t think we’re the worst. We’re going to try to continue to improve that spot like every other spot.”

On DT Trysten Hill’s rookie season: “I think he’s going to be better this year than he was last year. … When we draft a player, we’re projecting. Then you put (him) in the actual deal and see (him) grow. He has all the talent.” McClay said that Jim Tomsula, the new defensive line coach had watched Hill during college, and they know there’s still more upside there. “That’s the big thing, you want to see them grow from Year 1 to Year 2.”

On Dak Prescott: “The No. 1 thing of the quarterback position is being a leader,” McClay said. And Prescott has that. On the field, McClay said he feels Prescott can run either a pro-style offense or utilize more of an option-oriented collegiate approach. “I think that’s what Coach McCarthy was really excited about.”

On memories of Prescott from the 2016 Senior Bowl: “Just his leadership. Every year you come and you see all these different kids that come from different places, and you try to get a feel for who they are. It’s our first opportunity to get in front of them and talk to them ourselves. But when we were on the field, and there was this guy who was always leading his group when he was with us, it just showed. The way he competed in that game showed a lot about him.”

On Kellen Moore staying on as OC: “He’s one of those bright minds. Coach McCarthy said when he was sitting around and looking out at guys he wanted to have around him, he talked about Kellen. I think that Kellen’s ingenuity and some of the things he’s done on offense and the way he has a feel for our players and what Dak does … I think you add that to McCarthy’s scheme and there’s a number of different things we can do.”

On Sean Lee and Jason Witten and the value of veteran leadership, if they return in 2020: “Leadership is key. Finding those guys who can help transition. Those guys have things that, talking to this coaching staff, they value. The leadership, the understanding of the game, all those things. Now you just have to make the decisions and the players have to make the decisions as to where they want to be and all that stuff. .”

On McCarthy’s say in personnel decisions: “Every coach knows something about players. They have a feel for what they’re looking for and our process is inclusive. We want to get everybody together and hear everyone’s opinion. At the end of the day, Jerry makes the decision but coaches have input, scouts have input. That’s why we feel like our process is very good because anybody that’s been around them, knows more about them and knows what they’re putting them into. If you pull all that stuff together, we’ve got a chance to build a good team.”