By SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Sports Writer
IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys are sending signals that they might trade down in the draft Thursday night.
If so, they would do well to remember their disastrous “special teams” draft of 2009, the last time Dallas focused on stockpiling picks.
Not one player remains from the class with the ill-fated label from owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who didn’t have a first-round pick and focused on depth believing the Cowboys had the pieces to contend even though they were coming off a 9-7 season.
Dallas did make the playoffs that year and picked up the franchise’s only playoff win since 1996. But it wasn’t because of any significant contributions from the 12 draft picks known as the “dirtiest dozen,” a derisive reference to the 1975 draft that was called the “dirty dozen” after 12 Dallas rookies made the roster for a team that went to three of the next four Super Bowls.
Plus, the Cowboys haven’t been back to the postseason since, and last season they kept signing players off the waiver wire when they didn’t have the depth to endure injuries on defense.
“We’ve got to do a better job going forward of taking your lumps early, but developing these guys and putting them in your lineup,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said at the team’s draft preview Monday.
Dallas sits at No. 18 this year, possibly too low for an immediate upgrade needed for the offensive line. While there is a theory that a draft short on elite talent makes it a good idea to surrender picks to grab one of the top prospects, the Cowboys seem to be leaning the other way.
“Typically you save those big move ups for your skill players … whether it’s a corner or a pass rusher on defense, a quarterback, running back, receiver,” Stephen Jones said in a radio appearance Tuesday. “You’re usually willing to give up a player later in the draft to really get a guy you want. I don’t necessarily see that for us this year.”
The Cowboys have moved up twice in the three drafts since the whiff of 2009, with what appear to be good results.
Dallas jumped three spots to grab a sliding Dez Bryant late in the first round three years ago, and the receiver had a breakthrough season in 2012. The Cowboys moved way up last year, from 14th to sixth, and took cornerback Morris Claiborne. He had modest numbers for an underperforming and depleted defense, but was one of the reasons the team felt it had the personnel to switch back to the 4-3 after nearly a decade in the 3-4.
The best of the past four drafts for Dallas was the one time Jerry Jones stood pat. In the first three rounds of 2011, the Cowboys got tackle Tyron Smith, linebacker Bruce Carter and running back DeMarco Murray. All three are expected to be cornerstones in the coming years.
The 2009 draft may not have been Jones’ worst. Facing similar constraints in 2001 — no first-round pick thanks to a bad trade — the Cowboys traded down in the second round and took quarterback Quincy Carter at least two rounds ahead of where he was projected.
Carter was one of many post-Troy Aikman failures, and Jones didn’t take another quarterback until 2009, his next truly bad draft. Stephen McGee went in the fourth round and was never more than a third-stringer behind Tony Romo and a host of backups.
Still, Jones is undeterred on the idea of trading down if that’s what fits.
“There’s enough depth in this draft that you sure want to keep your ears open for trades, because you very well could get as good or a better player at another level,” Jones said. “We will have our minds open.”