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Trade Up, Trade Down, Or Stand Pat: Weighing The Cowboys' First Round Draft Options

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Jerry Jones loves to wheel and deal. Is this a good year for him to make a move, and what move should he make?

It's coming. Time to start thinking about the wheeling and dealing.
It's coming. Time to start thinking about the wheeling and dealing.
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

We all know that the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys loves to make a deal. And he especially loves to make deals early in the NFL Draft. In 2012, Dallas moved up in the first round to take Morris Claiborne, who the team viewed as the best defender on the board. The next year, they traded back because of a perceived lack of value, and turned the first-round pick into Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams. Last season the Cowboys stood pat in the first round, netting Zack Martin, but traded up in the second to get DeMarcus Lawrence, who was considered a "must have" for the defense.

So, based just on what was done the past three years, there is an equal chance of Dallas trading up, trading down, or staying at 27 this year. But the team has to make their decision based on which players are available and the value of that 27th pick.

The draft class this year has some deficiencies. Most obvious is the lack of  quarterback talent, with only Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston being talked about as top 5 or 10 type talents. But this lack of top flight talent extends across the board. This Tweet is fairly typical of what several credible draftiks are saying:

That means there is really only about half a round of players who are clearly deserving of a first-round pick. This puts teams like Dallas, who are quite a distance past that half-way point, in a bad position. Using a late first-round pick on an early second-round-level talent is just not an effective use of your resources, even though there may not be any way to really avoid it. This is a good argument to try and move out of the 27th spot.

But if the evaluation of the talent level is accurate, moving up far enough to get a legitimate first round talent is going to be very expensive. Unless multiple teams make bad calls, Dallas would have to move up 12 or so spots, and based on one commonly used draft value chart, it would cost them roughly their first, second and third picks - at least. Stephen Jones has stated that the Cowboys use their own chart, but the move up to anything between the 10th and 15th spot is just prohibitively expensive, along the lines of the now infamous trade Washington made to get Robert Griffin III, or the rumored but probably unworkable trade by Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles to get Mariota. There is no sign of any player that would worth that kind of move to get, especially since Dallas has no realistic hope of moving into the top ten positions.

Additionally, trading up is always a risky proposition. Joe Bussel, who tweets (very intelligently) as @NFLosophy, likens drafting to throwing darts. You can work to be as accurate as you can with the throws, but the most reliable way to increase your chances of hitting on good players is to get as many darts as you can to throw. Trading up is the opposite approach. It should only be reserved for a player that the staff has determined to be a sure-fire thing.

And it should be mentioned that the Cowboys thought that was exactly what Claiborne was.

Given these arguments, trading up would seem to be something that should be avoided this year (and perhaps almost all years, although I don't think anyone is convincing Jerry Jones of that). With the dearth of talent in the class of '15, that makes trading down the best way to go.

This would require finding a partner to trade with, which means that at least one other team has to come to basically the opposite conclusions that Dallas has. In other words, they need a sucker. But for sake of argument, the assumption is that a suitable trade partner can be found. And, frankly, the NFL does not lack for owners and GMs that make some really bad decisions concerning the draft.

It is pure coincidence that one team that would be a good match for Dallas to execute a trade out of the first round is the Cleveland Browns. I'm not saying the team of Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon is prone to make some really bad decisions about personnel, but they are prone to make some really bad decisions about personnel. Speaking of Gordon, with his one-year suspension, the Browns are in need of some wide receiver talent, which is one thing that this draft class does have. Plus the Browns has multiple other needs that may make moving up attractive. Referring back to that draft value chart, Dallas' first-round spot is worth 680 points, while Cleveland's second- and third-round slots combine for 675 points, making it nearly an even swap and giving the Cowboys two extra picks on the second day of the draft.

One thing that a team trading back is doing is putting faith in their scouting department, because the further back in the draft you are, the harder it is to find truly NFL quality players. Outside of the Claiborne decision, the Dallas staff has not done badly in this area, with players like Terrance Williams and Anthony Hitchens as evidence. And while they are not infallible, that is in itself another argument for getting some more picks to work with.

Unfortunately, 2015 is likely to be a buyer's market for teams wanting to trade up, and those franchises like Dallas that would be better served by trading back may have a hard time getting good value. However, the scarcity of talent may make giving up a little value on the trade charts worth it.

So what do you think? If you were in Jerry or Stephen Jones' place, what kind of a deal would you be willing to entertain? Give us your ideas in the comments.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB