This offseason was one of my favorite in recent memories because it had a little bit of everything for the Dallas Cowboys. It started with the draft. We’ve already discussed how NFL.com stated that seven out of nine of their draft picks have a chance to become a starter. That’s great news. And while free agency has always been very uneventful for the Cowboys, it’s hard not to be excited about the new acquisitions of Allen Hurns and Cameron Fleming. Cool beans.
But it doesn’t end there. The Cowboys dabbled in a little trading during the draft and got themselves two new players, Tavon Austin and Jihad Ward. In fact, they might even be connected because within a four-hour period the Cowboys:
- Traded a sixth-round draft pick to the Rams for Tavon Austin
- Drafted wide receiver Cedrick Wilson in the sixth round
- Traded wide receiver Ryan Switzer for defensive tackle Jihad Ward
The team used one of their sixth-round picks wisely by trading for RB/WR/PR Austin. But then a few picks later, they loved the fact that Cedrick Wilson was still on the board and they couldn’t pass him up. Suddenly, the Cowboys wide receiver group was crowded. Not only that, but they hadn’t addressed the defensive tackle position at any point in the draft. They killed two birds with one trade when they swapped out the excess that was now Switzer for an interior defensive lineman in Ward.
So which of these trades will work out the best for the Cowboys?
What did the Cowboys have to give up?
To get Tavon Austin...
The Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to acquire the rights to Austin. Clearly, Austin is not going to live up to his eighth-overall draft cost, but he still has the talent to be a fixture in the Cowboys offense. Sixth-round draft picks don’t have a high success rate in the NFL. The Cool One wrote a piece a couple years ago and it indicated that sixth-round picks have only a 15% chance to become a starter. Even though the Cowboys are taking a flyer on Austin, the odds can’t be much worse than those odds.
To get Jihad Ward...
The Cowboys traded last year’s fourth-round pick, Ryan Switzer, to acquire Ward, who was selected in the second-round of the 2016 NFL Draft. If Switzer was still on the team, we’d be talking about how he’d be in a dogfight to earn one of the Cowboys last wide receivers spots. Last year, Switzer didn’t make the impression people were hoping for during his rookie season. He only had six catches all year for 41 yards. He did make a couple plays in the return game, one good and one bad. He returned a punt for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins, but also had a costly fumble against the Los Angeles Rams.
Regardless the reasoning, Switzer wasn’t utilized very much in the Cowboys offense. And you’d be hard pressed to find things to get any better with so many other new receivers vying for targets this season. Maybe he was drafted to be an eventual replacement of Cole Beasley, who is on the last year of his contract, but there was nothing about how he performed last season to believe he was ready for that type of role.
Both Switz or a new sixth-round pick would be on the bubble to make the roster in 2018. Consider this part a wash.
What did the Cowboys get?
In Tavon Austin...
The Cowboys offense is going through a transition where they are trying to find ways to be efficient with their new quarterback. They have been trying to add a speedster running back for a while now. In 2016, they drafted Darius Jackson. He’s fast. Last year, they were targeting Donnel Pumphrey (he’s also fast), but the Philadelphia Eagles snatched him up one pick before the Cowboys took Switzer. With Austin, they get their 4.34 speedster to work into the offense. He’s another weapon the defense has to be mindful of whenever he steps on the field.
In Jihad Ward...
Ward’s two-year stint with the Oakland Raiders hasn’t gone well. He played in all 16 games his rookie season, but only had 30 tackles and didn’t record a sack. Last year, he only saw the field for five games, starting only one of them. He only had two tackles, but did get his one and only sack of his career. He missed time due to a left foot injury that required surgery. While he’s dancing around the “bust” label after his first two seasons, he’s hoping a change in scenery will help revitalize his career. And if OTA’s are any indication, he’s got a real shot at doing just that. He’s been the top offseason surprise so far according to the Mothership.
What will be their role on the team?
Austin will be used as a gadget back. Sometimes he’ll rush, other times he’ll catch passes. Contrary to what Stephen Jones might tell you, his touches shouldn’t reach double digits on average per game. That doesn’t mean he still can’t be effective.
Ward will be used as a reserve defensive tackle. At least that was the plan initially. With Maliek Collins and David Irving slated as the team’s starting DT’s, Ward would likely have to earn snaps coming off the bench. But, for different reasons, both Collins and Irving haven’t been practicing and that has opened the door for Ward to get reps. Rod Marinelli loved what he saw in Ward when he was helping coach the Senior Bowl a couple years ago. In fact, the Cowboys had Ward graded out 46th on their board, just five spots after Collins.
How long do they get them for?
Tavon Austin - He’s got one year left on his contract and will be a cap hit of $3 million for Dallas. The Rams are paying an additional $4 million against their cap. Sure, he’s overpriced for his $7 million contract price for 2018, but the Cowboys are getting him for 42 cents on the dollar. It’s just a one-year rental, but if he fits in, he could be a part of the team’s future. He’s 28, but still super fast.
Jihad Ward - He’s got two more years left on his rookie contract and will cost the team roughly $1 million each season. That makes him a cheap resource as the team tries to figure what his full potential is.
The jury is still out regarding which one of these trades is better. The Cowboys are trying to add more weapons and create competition on their roster. The addition of Austin and Ward do exactly that. The Cowboys have made deals before to get good use out of Rolando McClain and Brice Butler. They both outplayed their cost. Hopefully, these new deals can provide the team similar value and you never know when one of these darts are going to stick.
It’s tough to pick between these two right now. The Cowboys didn’t give up much to get either of them. Both are playing positions where there is good competition for reps, but the opportunities still exist to get playing time if they play well. Austin’s ceiling could be just a role player on offense, whereas Ward’s upside could land him a starting DT job. It should be interesting to see how this plays out, but both of these players have the skills to be a big playmaker in Dallas.
Which of these trades do you like the most?