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Grading both the Cowboys draft day trades on Saturday

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We’ve looked at the draft picks, but the other moves on day three deserve scrutiny as well.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams
Have the Cowboys found that Swiss Army knife player in Tavon Austin?
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Well, they kinda fooled all of us. Going into the 2018 NFL Draft, it was widely believed that the Dallas Cowboys would use their ten overall picks to move around a lot and go after players they wanted. Instead, the team displayed an amazing level of patience, letting the draft come to them and using nine of the picks as scheduled. Overall, it was a pretty good haul, and a grade for the entire draft will come soon.

But Trader Jerry was not completely idle. We have seen in the past how much Jerry Jones loves to wheel and deal, and although the team was not nearly as active as in past years, there were still two trades that happened on Saturday. They were definitely connected to the draft, so here are grades for both of them.

Cowboys trade pick 192 to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Tavon Austin.

This was the first real surprise of the day. For a very low cost, the Cowboys picked up the speedy Austin. At first, it seemed like just adding to an already crowded wide receiver group, but Austin is not your typical wideout. Dallas appears to have a different concept for using him.

For years, the Cowboys have been trying to find that change of pace running back that would be a big part of the passing game. Leading up to the draft, they had a lot of interest in Nyheim Hines and Ito Smith for that role, with those two the only running backs brought in for pre-draft visits. But both were taken before the Cowboys felt it would be a good place to draft them. That turned their attention to Austin, whose career numbers support his ability to fill that role. In his five years with the Rams (four under the leadership of the not-so-creative Jeff Fisher), he had 1,689 yards and 12 touchdowns receiving, and added 1,238 yards and nine touchdowns as a rusher. Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones believes they can get the ball in his hands enough to make his acquisition pay off.

The GM added this.

Of course, the question arises as to why the Rams were willing to part with him at such a low cost. What has been speculated is that he is not that good a fit for how they use QB Jared Goff - and that he fits much better in the vision the Cowboys have for the offense under Dak Prescott. The plan seems to be to use Prescott’s mobility and more RPO to attack defenses. That means Austin can be valuable on jet sweeps and in the right situations present the challenge of figuring out if he is going to be a runner or go into the pattern.

It is an intriguing idea. Whether it is worth it depends on how Scott Linehan will use him. But with his speed and what he has shown he can do at times, this may just work out.

It was also not that costly of a deal for the Cowboys in terms of cap hit.

Grade: B. The cost was right, and the possibilities are certainly there.

Cowboys trade Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders for DT Jihad Ward.

If the Austin trade was surprising, the trade of Switzer was a real shock. However, the following seem to be the reasons it happened.

  • Adding Austin made Switzer somewhat redundant, with the Cowboys looking to have Austin do everything Switzer did in his rookie season, and more.
  • Dallas washed out on acquiring a DT in the draft.
  • It apparently was the Raiders idea to begin with.

Ward was a second-round pick in 2016, but he has had a rocky start to his NFL career. He only notched 32 tackles and one sack in his two years with the Raiders. This may be a case of putting too much faith in your own coaches to fix a player.

On the flip side, he certainly addresses a need, and with Switzer’s utility to the Cowboys diminished, it was not a costly move at all. There is no assurance Ward will even make the roster this year, but with him still on his rookie contract, there isn’t any real financial penalty if he doesn’t.

And last season, the Cowboys didn’t show that they really knew how to make Switzer an effective part of the offense, and he was inconsistent as a returner. This may be as much a case of cutting your losses and getting something of possible value for someone who was going to face a real challenge keeping his place on the team, and who was likely to be way down on the WR depth chart even if he did. However, it does seem that Switzer didn’t get much of a chance to prove himself. It feels almost unfair, and this doesn’t help.

But Ward hasn’t been very good. If he doesn’t improve, this won’t be worth much.

Grade: C-. Hopefully Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett can make Ward a more effective player.