Jerry Jones loves to wheel and deal. Trading is in his blood, and he has made many notable moves involving draft picks. The results have run the gamut, from overwhelming and almost legendary success in the Herschel Walker trade, to unmitigated disasters like the Joey Galloway and Roy Williams (the wide receiver) acquisitions. While those all involved trading picks for veteran players, he is no stranger to draft day moves up and down the board, either. Those have also had a range of results. Recently the trade back in 2013 that netted Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams was a good one, while going up after Morris Claiborne the year before was not so successful. Even in years they don't do much at the top of their draft, the Dallas Cowboys still like to move around in the later rounds as they did at the very end of 2015's draft, sending a future pick to the 49ers to get an extra seventh-round pick to take Geoff Swaim.
Trades to move around in the draft are part of the landscape in Dallas. So how many draft trades did they have in 2016?
None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Oh, they tried. In the first round they flirted with moving back a couple of spots. The team was serious about getting a second pick in the first round once Paxton Lynch slid down to mid-twenties. They also reportedly gave thought to trading back from their second-round slot the next day when they saw their top two targets, Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd, go just before they went on the clock. But all those deals fell through. And that completely changed the course of things for the Cowboys. It is arguable that had they succeeded in completing the Lynch deal, it could have largely wrecked the rest of the draft. It certainly would have weakened the result.
The reason the team backed off from the small trade back (to six) in the first round was that they were worried that both their top two players, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey, would be taken if they did so. While there are many who fault the use of the fourth-overall pick on Elliott when the team was able to get over 1,000 yards out of Darren McFadden, there is a serious question about who they could have taken at six if they had moved back. If Elliott and Ramsey were indeed both gone, they might have taken DeForest Buckner. He was a legitimate top ten talent in this year's class, and certainly would have helped address the need for a pass rusher, but based on history, he would almost certainly have had less impact than Elliott is likely to. Rookie pass rushers just don't produce a lot. Buckner would have been a great investment in the future. But he has only a fraction of the chance Elliott has to significantly elevate the team this year.
Another possibility for the sixth pick may have been Lynch, although the indications are that the team did not have him that high on their board. The mid to late twenties seems to have been their desired range for him, so it is not surprising that they made an offer when he reached that point. That was also the thinking of the Broncos, who are much more in need of immediate quarterback help than Dallas, and who also were able to offer the Seahawks the ability to stay in the first round and get the fifth-year option on their pick. This tipped the scales, even though Dallas was offering more draft capital in their second and third-round picks than Seattle wound up receiving. The Cowboys stepped back from the bidding at that point, although Jerry Jones admits he had second thoughts.
Jerry Jones: "When I look back on my life, I've overpaid for my big successes every time. I probably should've overpaid [for Paxton Lynch]."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 30, 2016
Uh, Jerry, you also overpaid for some of your big mistakes - like those two fellows mentioned above, Galloway and Williams. Probably a good thing Stephen has a better memory.
Not only would completing the deal for Lynch have completely wiped out the second day of the draft for the Cowboys, there is a better than even chance that Lynch will peak as a backup quarterback. That is just how hard it is to find QBs in the NFL. For some time now, there have only been one or two legitimate NFL starters in each draft class (if there are any at all). The odds of there being three this year are extremely remote. And my own reservations about Carson Wentz aside, the consensus of almost everyone was that Lynch was number three this year. That is not a safe bet.
Spending a second and third on a quarterback that may never be a successful starter and who would hopefully not see the field anyway for at least a couple of years is probably an unwise and risky use of quality draft picks. With Lynch out of the picture, the Cowboys turned to their second choice, Connor Cook. While he is an even longer shot to become a starter, he does have a good potential to become a good backup, which is the true immediate need for Dallas. With the overvaluation of the QB position, some thought the Cowboys could use either of their day two picks to get him. They had what they thought were better ways to use those picks, and decided to wait until day three and take him with the 101st overall pick if he made it that far. The calculation almost worked, with the Raiders jumping just ahead of Dallas to take Cook at 100.
They could have gone immediately to their third choice for a QB at that point, but decided to not panic and wait a bit longer. It paid off this time as Dak Prescott made it to the compensatory pick at 135. That position in the draft seems like a really good fit for his resume, and comp picks feel kind of like freebies anyway. In this case the failure to make a trade at the top of the draft pushed the Cowboys into doing something that makes a whole lot more sense.
Those first two missed trade opportunities really worked out for the Cowboys. The third one, a reported near-deal to trade back from 34 once Ogbah and Dodd were taken ahead of that spot, may have been one they could have profited from. The selection of Jaylon Smith is very much a calculated risk. While the team can point to the future and their own supposed superior knowledge of the status of his recovery, the question arises of why he was the third option behind the two defensive ends. Yes, he would have been a top five talent if he had not been injured. But why was he not your first choice at 34? If you only were interested in him if two other players were gone, why not take a trade back even with the risk of missing on Smith if someone else (the Patriots were rumored to be targeting Smith in the second) might take him?
It is still a somewhat puzzling decision, and one that cannot be truly judged until we find out when and even if Smith can play. There is a certain audacity to taking him at 34, but could Dallas have found two other players that would contribute more collectively than Smith can by himself? We'll never know, of course, but given that they could have gotten players that would be expect to actually play to open the season, there is a decent chance the trade would have been beneficial.
Even though that may have been a missed opportunity, the other two trade chances look to have been best left alone. Overall, Dallas probably came out ahead by sitting in place for all nine of their picks. We'll never know for sure until we see how this class works out in the NFL, but for now, we should all be glad Trader Jerry took a few days off.