IRVING, Texas (AP) — If Zack Martin is forever known as the player the Dallas Cowboys drafted instead of Johnny Manziel, the Notre Dame offensive tackle is fine with it.
“I can live up to that,” Martin said Thursday night a few minutes after the Cowboys took him with the 16th pick in the first round of the NFL draft.
With anticipation growing that Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones wouldn’t be able to pass on the flashy former Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, Dallas instead went with an offensive lineman in the first round for the second straight year.
“Coming into tonight, your guess would have been as good as mine,” said Martin, who played a regular-season game with the Irish in the $1.2 billion home of the Cowboys last season. “I didn’t really know where I was going to land. But like I said, I couldn’t be happier.”
Instead of his potential replacement joining the roster, 34-year-old Tony Romo gets another piece to protect his back that underwent two surgeries last season. The latter was for a herniated disk sustained against Washington that knocked Romo out of the playoff-or-bust loss to Philadelphia in the season finale.
Jones took Martin a year after trading down 13 spots to No. 31 and getting center Travis Frederick, later explaining the strategy as wanting to get an “extra half-second” for Romo to throw. Frederick started all 16 games as a rookie.
The Cowboys stayed put this time, just as they did in 2011 when they drafted ninth and took left tackle Tyron Smith, who has played 47 of 48 games in his career — all as a starter.
“Can’t wait to learn under those veterans and learn how to be a pro and go into battle with them each week,” said Martin, who holds a Notre Dame record with 52 consecutive starts.
Martin was a tackle with the Irish but could see time at guard with the Cowboys. Doug Free is the starter at right tackle and was better in 2013 after having a rough season a year earlier. Ron Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau were the starting guards, but neither has a stranglehold on the job.
Dallas went with Martin after its top defensive targets — Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr — were taken earlier.
But the Cowboys figure to turn their attention to the defensive line at some point in the draft. They are revamping their front four after releasing franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware in a salary-cap move following the worst season of his nine-year career.
Dallas re-signed defensive end Anthony Spencer, but he missed 15 games last season with a left knee injury. The Cowboys added three other defensive linemen in free agents Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain.
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