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December 13, 2021

John McMullen: It’s advantage Cowboys with Micah Parsons

Recency bias is often powerful bigotry that can be blinding to the macro view NFL organizations must take with their own teams.

One season never makes a career but the way the 2021 NFL Draft unfurled will have fans for three of the four NFC East teams comparing what happened in the first round when measured against their heated rivals.

And the hated Dallas Cowboys got arguably the best player of the class in presumptive Defensive Rookie of the Year and potential Defensive Player of the Year Micah Parsons.

To rewind, when things started back on April 29, Dallas, the New York Giants, and the Eagles were holding Nos. 10 through 12 in the selection meeting.

Howie Roseman had already moved back, from No. 6 to 12, in order to add an extra 2022 first-round pick from Miami, a deal almost universally lauded early this season when the Dolphins got off to a 1-7 start, and one that still looks solid even with Miami running off five straight victories.

The real story behind the retreat by the Eagles was the firewall preventing any opportunity to potentially use the sixth pick as a launching pad to quarterback Zach Wilson, the second overall pick who went to the New York Jets. (Remember Trevor Lawrence was a non-starter for anyone not named Jacksonville).

From there the Eagles would have been happy with four players – cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn as well as receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith – and felt they would get one of those players despite moving back, likely Smith or Horn.

It’s not that Philadelphia didn’t like other stud prospects like Kyle Pitts, a Philadelphia native, or even Parsons, a Penn State product, but the organizational philosophy just doesn’t value positions like tight end and off-ball linebacker at the top of the draft as opposed to QB, the offensive and defensive lines, or cornerback, something that is not exactly a controversial stance in the modern NFL.

What really ignited the sense of urgency for the Eagles was Carolina and Denver taking the two CBs off the board at Nos. 8 (Horn to the Panthers) and 9 (Surtain to the Broncos}. Waddle, meanwhile, was already lone gone at No. 6 to the Dolphins.

That left the Cowboys at No. 10 with their first choice (one of the CBs) gone and the understanding that their consolation prize would be Parsons, the uber-athletic defender who was a bit of a tweener to some, lacking the arm length to be a top-tier edge-rushing prospect, meaning off-ball LB was his future.

Directly behind Dallas were the Giants and Eagles, who both wanted Smith and Philadelphia was willing to vault ahead of the NYG to snare the Heisman Trophy winner.

The Cowboys, comfortable the Giants had no real interest in Parsons, were fine moving down two spots, understanding they would still get the player they wanted while gaining the 84th pick (DE Chauncey Golston) and a little savings on top of it, although the latter was virtually meaningless.

The Giants could have been a fly in the ointment after missing out on Smith and they did indeed trade down to No. 20, allowing Chicago to jump up and take quarterback Justin Fields.

Had a team interested in Parsons moved up instead, it would have hurt the Cowboys badly because while they likely had two players they would have been happy with, the other defensive names like Zaven Collins or Jamin Davis would have paled in hindsight.

Dallas, of course, ended up with Parsons at No. 12, a legitimate threat to become the first rookie to win NFL DPOTY since Lawrence Taylor in 1981, a case bolstered Sunday in the Cowboys’ 27-20 win over the Washington Football Team with two more sacks by Parsons, one of the strip-sack variety that turned into a Dorance Armstrong 37-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

The Eagles do love Smith and even the NYG are happy with what they got at No. 20 in Kadarius Toney but the early returns say the Cowboys got the best player and they got him with a kicker because the Eagles have ignored off-ball LB in the first round since 1979 and Jerry Robinson.

What’s worse, though, is that Roseman and Andy Weidl also evidently didn’t evaluate Parsons highly as an edge rusher, a position the organization would deem as worthy at No. 6, never mind 10 or 12.

The irony is that Smith, like Parsons, was a trend-buster for the Eagles because WR is typically also not a position the Eagles are trading into the top 10 for but that curveball was partially fueled to make up for the previous mistakes of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor.

The difference is that the Eagles got the best WR they’ve had in years while the Cowboys got the best defensive rookie the NFL has had in years.

Whether the recency bias of that one-year snapshot turns into a thesis validated by demonstrated performance over a large sample size will take years to ascertain.

What we can say right now is — much like the NFC East standings — it’s advantage Cowboys.

John McMullen is a contributor to, and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Media. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at Follow John on Twitter.