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The Keanu Neal signing continues an eight-year Cowboys streak of acquiring former first-rounders

The Cowboys love to collect other team’s first-round draft picks.

Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

First-round draft picks are the best. That is why teams are willing to give up some good things in return to acquire them. Sometimes those draft picks don’t materialize into what teams hope causing some of those connections to be short-lived.

Whether it’s sooner versus later, the Dallas Cowboys have shown interest in other teams first-round picks. In fact, with the signing of free agent Keanu Neal, this makes the eighth-straight offseason the Cowboys have went out and acquired another team’s former first-round pick. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and revisit these players.

2014

Rolando McClain

The Oakland Raiders didn’t get good return on their investment when they took McClain eighth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft as he only played two and a half seasons in the silver and black. The Raiders released him in 2013 where he was then signed by the Baltimore Ravens, only to announce his retirement a month later.

After Sean Lee suffered a season-ending injury in OTA’s of 2014, the Cowboys traded a sixth-round draft pick in exchange for McClain’s rights. While it was a risky move considering McClain’s unpredictable character, it turned out being a great decision as he played extremely well for the Cowboys. The marriage didn’t last as McClain would again become a headache, but it was good while it lasted.

While the Raiders lost out on some premium draft capital by selecting him, karma came back around and rewarded them in a Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation sort of way...

Brandon Weeden

If you are ever catch yourself not appreciating a good quarterback when you have one, then you should think of Brandon Weeden as he serves as not one, but two instances of how excruciating it can be not having a good QB. First, he is one of five quarterbacks the Cleveland Browns have selected in the first round in the 20-year span of 1999-2019 that includes: Tim Couch (1999), Brady Quinn (2007), Brandon Weeden (2012), Johnny Manziel (2014), and Baker Mayfield (2018).

Second, Weeden was a part of that miserable 2015 season where the Cowboys scrambled to find anyone viable to play quarterback after Tony Romo went down. While people remember that terrible season, the Cowboys actually signed Weeden the year prior, although he only made one start during the 2014 season.

2015

Darren McFadden

When DeMarco Murray left in free agency, the Cowboys went the affordable route at the running back position when they signed McFadden to a two-year, $3 million deal. After playing second fiddle to Joseph Randle to start the season, McFadden started kicking it in high gear as the year progressed as he rushed for over 1,000 yards despite only starting the last 10 games of the season.

McFadden was selected fourth-overall in 2008 by the Oakland Raiders, and was a solid running back for the Cowboys, however, he was replaced with another fourth-overall pick in Ezekiel Elliott the following season.

2016

Mark Sanchez

After being selected fifth-overall by the New York Jets in 2009, Sanchez never manifested into the player many hoped. In eight NFL seasons, he finished his career with more interceptions than touchdown passes, and is notoriously remembered for fumbling the ball after running into the backside of his own lineman.

Sanchez only played in one game for the Cowboys in what most remember as Romo’s last ever NFL game. He struggled throwing two picks and was outdueled by the promising young arm of Carson Wentz, squandering a lead and spoiling Romo’s last hurrah. But more than anything, Sanchez provided nice mentorship for the then rookie Dak Prescott.

2017

Jonathan Cooper

A seventh-overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2013, Cooper could never get any traction as he only started 14 games during his first four seasons in the league. The Cowboys got lucky and captured his best season of his career in 2017 when he started 13 games at left guard. It came after the team lost Ron Leary in free agency and had just moved La’el Collins to right tackle.

Cooper was a great signing for the low price of just $2 million, and he played well enough to get a one-year, $5 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Strangely, he did not make the team and cost the Niners more money in dead money than he cost the Cowboys the previous season.

Datone Jones

A late first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2013, Jones finished out his rookie deal before having trouble finding a home in 2017. He bounced around a few teams before signing with the Cowboys on a two-year deal. He played in four games in 2017 and just one the following season before landing on injured reserve.

Jones is one of many darts the Cowboys have thrown at the defensive tackle position as they continue the ongoing search for a real difference-maker.

2018

Tavon Austin

Like Jonathan Cooper and Datone Jones, Tavon Austin was also taken in the first round of 2013. In fact, he was picked one spot after Cooper. It was a high investment for a player who has never amounted to anything more than a “What Ever Back.” Despite not eclipsing 500 yards receiving in any of his first three seasons, the Los Angeles Rams signed him to a four-year extension in 2016. Austin played two more season with the Rams before being traded to Dallas for a sixth-round pick.

Although Austin didn’t cost much financially or via draft capital, he also didn’t give the team much either. He averaged just 15 yards receiving in 21 games throughout 2018 and 2019.

Amari Cooper

The Oakland Raiders made Cooper their fourth-overall pick in 2015 where he hit the ground running, racking up two straight 1,000+ Pro Bowl seasons. He fizzled a bit the following year as he battled through injuries, but he returned to form once he was traded to the Cowboys midway through the 2018 season.

It cost the Cowboys a first-round pick the following year, but with each game he plays he has proven that he’s WORTH A FIRST!

2019

Robert Quinn

In another example of a great use of late-round draft capital, the Cowboys spent a sixth-round pick to pull Quinn away from the Miami Dolphins. The Phins were in fire sale mode, and the Cowboys capitalized. Quinn, the Rams 14th overall pick in 2011, did cost the Cowboys $8 million along with that draft pick, but he proved that he was well worth it. After several seasons where his sack totals were less than stellar, Quinn led the Cowboys with 11.5 sacks in 2019. It was it his second highest sack total of his career.

Quinn was rewarded with a five-year, $70 million deal last offseason from the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately for Chi Town, Quinn severely underperformed, only tallying two sacks on the year.

2020

Gerald McCoy

McCoy was taken third-overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010 and is a highly decorated player, with six Pro Bowl appearances. With eight straight, five-plus sack seasons, the veteran defensive tackle just kept pushing through. The Cowboys signed McCoy to a three-year deal in hopes he would be an answer at the defensive tackle position, but unfortunately he suffered a quadricep injuring in training camp. He was released in August.

Dontari Poe

The team double-dipped at defensive tackle in free agency last year by also signing Poe. The veteran had a couple Pro Bowls under his belt, and it was hoped he’d be able to help the team stuff the run. A former 11th overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012, Poe was very unimpressive in a Cowboys uniform and was released after seven games.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Selected 21st overall by the Packers, Clinton-Dix had his moments, including a five-interception Pro Bowl season in 2016. And while it was believed he could be a nice add at the free safety position for the Cowboys last season, he was released before the season even started.

Aldon Smith

Taken two spots ahead of Tyron Smith in the 2011 NFL Draft, Aldon Smith was a beast early on for the San Francisco 49ers. But after being suspended for four complete seasons, it wasn’t clear what this 31-year-old had in him. The Cowboys signed Smith on a cheap one-year, $1.35 million deal last year. He started off strong, racking up four sacks in his first three games, but then slowed down.

Cameron Erving

The Browns picked Erving 19th overall in 2015, but then traded him away to the Chiefs for a fifth-round pick after just two seasons. Erving played three seasons with KC before leaving in free agency last year. The Cowboys signed him to one-year deal to be the team’s swing tackle, and he was solid over six games as he fought through injuries.

2021

Keanu Neal

The Cowboys top free agent signing so far this offseason is former 17th overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons Keanu Neal. The interesting thing about this signing compared to the others is that Neal played well enough to have the Falcons exercise his fifth-year option, yet he wasn’t retained on a second contract. He did suffer two straight season-ending injuries early in the years of 2018 and 2019, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been a good player. The Pro Bowl safety has had 100+ tackles in all three of the years he’s played in at least three games.