The Dallas Cowboys were "rewarded" for their embarrassingly inept 2015 performance with the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. It has been a long time since the Cowboys sat this high in the draft. It gives them the opportunity to take a true blue-chip player. However, the selection also offers them a lot of potential capital to perhaps move back and get a lot more picks. Could attempting to find a trade partner actually be the best move for them?
Historically, the Cowboys under Jerry Jones have been more than willing to make draft trades, both up and down. They moved up for Dez Bryant, Morris Claiborne, and DeMarcus Lawrence. A trade back netted them Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams. And they don't limit the action just to high rounds. Last year they used a future pick to get an extra seventh-rounder that they used on Geoff Swaim. Obviously, this is a mixed bag of results so trading up or down is no guarantee of success. If you really want to look at a failed strategy of trading picks, there is the 2009 "special teams" draft, which was pretty much the antithesis of special (although very few other NFL teams saw any real benefit from that class, either).
However, this is a draft that has very few, if any, absolute sure things. There are certainly some "blue-chip" level talents, but in the eyes of many, it is not as large a group as in most years. It looks like only about half the first round, perhaps less, will qualify. That makes for a two-edged argument when considering whether it would be wise for Dallas to trade back. The small size of that pool of top level talents would push the team in the direction of staying put and trying to ensure they get one of the best players. Countering that is that fact that the team is just not likely to get a real "game-changer" this year, and trading back to get more shots would be to their advantage.
Further complicating this is the quarterback question. There are two camps that have taken shape, labeled by our own OCC as the QB Truthers and the QB Skeptics. The Truthers believe that it takes something in the top five picks of the draft to take a quarterback who is likely to be able to become a franchise players, and that the Cowboys have an excellent chance of finding one from among the three leading candidates, Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, or Carson Wentz. The Skeptics have two counters to that. First, the fourth pick of the draft should yield a player who makes an immediate impact, and with Tony Romo hopefully having two or three good years left, taking a QB would not be a good use of such a high pick for Dallas. Second, many are just doubtful that there is a top-flight quarterback prospect in those three.
Of course, we cannot know how the Cowboys will eventually rate the various options at four. They may have names that they are more than willing to take with that pick, and it may include a quarterback of the future. But if they do not feel that they have a real chance at one of those "must have" kind of players, trading back might indeed be a valuable option.
Just how valuable? It depends a bit on who the trading partner might be, and it is pure speculation as to who might be willing to send the Cowboys enough to move into the fourth spot. But just to establish a baseline, I looked at the team currently sitting in the eleventh spot, the Chicago Bears. Again, this is not an attempt to judge if they would want the fourth pick, just looking for someone that would be an attractive partner for Dallas.
Although each NFL team likely has a slightly different version of the draft value charts used to calculate these kinds of trades, I used the one at Calculator Soup. Using it, and assuming I adjusted correctly for the New England Patriots losing their first round pick thanks to all the soft balls nonsense last year, there are two options. Dallas would receive either the Bears' first round pick (11th overall), second round (41st), and fourth round (106th), which would be a slight advantage to the Cowboys, or instead of the fourth they could get the fifth round pick (137th), which would be a slight advantage to Chicago.
This would still leave Dallas sitting with a relatively high pick in the draft at 11, and now they would have two picks in the second, and would either have three in the fourth due to the expected compensatory pick they should get there, or they would get back a fifth-round pick to replace the one that was traded away to the Oakland Raiders to get Brice Butler. Barring further trades, that would give the Cowboys eleven picks in all, and either six or seven of them would be prior to the fifth round. That is a lot of ammunition to go out and get some talent. And Dallas has needs all over the roster to address. It may even still be early enough to take one of the top quarterbacks (although trading back if you think that THE quarterback is available is certainly fraught with peril.)
Trading back is not without risks, and there is always the possibility no one will be interested enough in the fourth pick to work a deal out. It all comes back to what the Cowboys feel is available at four versus a later spot anyway, and we are a long way from them making any decisions on that. Still, it is certainly a possibility to consider.