I’m going to sound like a homer on this one, but bare with me: give the front office the benefit of the doubt,
Sure, the Amari Cooper trade - in which the Cowboys gave up a first-round pick for the receiver - seems risky. It is, and that’s usually the nature of trades. Trading Ryan Switzer for Jihad Ward was a risk that didn’t work out, but didn’t burn the Cowboys. Trading a pick for Tavon Austin was a risk that’s mostly worked out, even if he is injured again. That’s football. But those trades are minor compared to giving up a first-round pick.
When the news broke about what the Cowboys gave up for Cooper, many people derided Dallas for getting robbed by the same team that willingly got rid of Khalil Mack. People started bringing up Joey Galloway and Roy Williams again, situations where Dallas gave up a lot for a supposed star receiver who went on to do nothing for the team.
One important thing to remember about those trades is this: Jerry Jones doesn’t call the shots alone anymore. Sure, the charismatic owner still holds the title of General Manager and is ultimately in control, but this front office is really run by two men now: Stephen Jones and Will McClay. The man who foolishly gave up everything for Roy Williams likely didn’t formulate this trade, but just signed off on it. Instead, it was the two men most responsible for the team’s two playoff appearances over the past four years.
In the 2016 NFL Draft, when the Cowboys were on the clock at 16, Jerry very publicly wanted to take Johnny Manziel and groom him to replace Tony Romo. Stephen, whose reasoning was informed by the talent evaluations of McClay, convinced his father to instead take Zack Martin. Obviously, the right decision was made.
But the overall drafts in recent years are one of the reasons why we should all trust what Stephen and McClay are doing. Since the 2010 draft, the Cowboys have been exceptionally better at selecting players. It started with Dez Bryant and Sean Lee, both of whom had or are still having productive careers. Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray turned out to be excellent draft choices in 2011, and while selecting Morris Claiborne in the first round of the 2012 draft turned out to be a bust, it was lauded as a good move at the time. Even so, the Cowboys got Tyrone Crawford out of that draft as well.
And after Stephen got his way on taking Martin, which perhaps marked the most significant turning point in Jerry handing more control to his son, they followed it up the next day by trading up for DeMarcus Lawrence, and later getting Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round. Of course, the 2016 draft was their best one yet, with Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Anthony Brown, and Kavon Frazier all becoming important players to the team almost immediately. That incredibly talented secondary that has the Cowboys with the third best defense in the league? It consists of Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Frazier, Xavier Woods, and Jeff Heath. All of those players were drafted by Stephen and McClay, with the exception of undrafted gem Heath.
But let’s focus on this season. They got rid of Bryant, which is still up for debate but seems more justified every time the unemployed receiver tweets something, and instead focused on a receiver committee. Tavon Austin has been mostly good in the snaps he’s seen, and Michael Gallup is justifying the decision to wait until the third round to draft a receiver.
And the reason they didn’t take one earlier? Getting Leighton Vander Esch to be their third starting linebacker and insurance for Lee, both of which the rookie has been excellent at doing. In the second round, they took Connor Williams to address their offensive line’s biggest weakness, left guard. And while the rookie is still adjusting to the NFL, he’s been mostly good.
And then there’s the most controversial thing the front office has done this year: cutting Dan Bailey out of nowhere for unproven Brett Maher. The Cowboys were raked over the coals for that - similar to the reaction to the Cooper trade. Yet, through the five games Bailey has played for the Minnesota Vikings, he’s hitting only 78.6% of his field goals, while Maher has hit 88.9% and been one of the best kickers this year, a year where many teams have suffered from terrible kicking. (Yes, we realize he just clanged a 52-yarder, but still, he’s been a quality kicker).
If Stephen and McClay are right and Amari Cooper really is the missing piece this offense needs to get going - which Michael Irvin also believes - then this trade will get the Cowboys to the postseason and, ideally, further than that. If that happens, the first-round pick is worth it. Furthermore, wide receiver isn’t exactly stocked with number one receiving talents in the upcoming draft. Additionally, the quarterback class in the 2019 draft looks pretty uninspiring so far.
For Cowboys fans asking about next draft's 1st round WR prospects, here is my midseason top-32 Draft Board.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 22, 2018
I don't have a WR in the top-20: https://t.co/ijp14SJ3ZL
Cooper, on the other hand, is a known commodity despite his recent drop off in production. The Cowboys more or less know what they’re getting, and the fact that Cooper possesses great route running ability and has experience doing so against some stellar NFL defenses is a trait that no rookie wide receiver will have.
Now, there is the potential that Cooper will struggle to find a rhythm in this offense and the Cowboys continue to lose every other game and finish around .500 on the year. That’s always a possibility. But considering the body of work that Stephen Jones and Will McClay have thus far, it’s probably more likely that won’t happen. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.