The Dallas Cowboys looked great on Sunday in all facets of the game. The offense was scoring, the defense was scoring, and the special teams also scored. It was particularly nice to see the offense look good as they scored more touchdowns than they had in the previous two games combined. While the offense was sharp, there are still some reasons to be concerned.
For starters, the running game was again ineffective. The Cowboys have had problems running the ball recently and there does not seem to be any reason to expect things to get better unless changes are made. The team’s lead running back, Tony Pollard, is averaging less than 40 yards rushing over the last four games. He hasn’t broken a run for longer than 16 yards in that span.
The Cowboys' ineptitude in running the ball has caused some fans to desire a trade for All-Pro running back Derrick Henry from the Tennessee Titans. While Henry would be a nice addition to any team’s rushing attack, this may not be the correct way to go about fixing things in Dallas. That’s because the problem isn’t the team’s running backs, but rather the guys up front doing the blocking. The Cowboys' offensive line as a unit isn’t holding their blocks, they’re getting pushed into the quarterback’s lap, and they’re constantly moving around because guys are getting hurt. In short, help is needed.
Rather than trade for another running back who could experience similar problems, why not fix the root cause and trade for an offensive lineman who could improve their run-blocking? This makes former second-round pick Ezra Cleveland from the Minnesota Vikings a perfect candidate.
Why it makes sense for Dallas
The Cowboys have a problem at left tackle. Not surprisingly, Tyron Smith continues to have lingering health issues. Sunday was the third game that Smith has missed this season and they’re not even halfway through the season. His backup Chuma Edoga has seen a lot of action early but even he is having trouble staying on the field. He suffered an injury against the Rams, marking the third time Edoga has exited the game with an injury. It’s pretty clear that both Smith and Edoga cannot be counted on to hold down the tackle position. If neither is able to go, that puts a lot of pressure on fifth-round rookie Asim Richards to protect Dak Prescott’s blindside. That is not ideal.
Depending on the health of Smith and Edoga, it may force the Cowboys' hand in sliding second-year lineman Tyler Smith to the outside and playing the position he held down last season. The Cowboys would prefer not to do that. This is where adding Cleveland makes a lot of sense. He can play both left tackle and left guard, so the Cowboys would get the position flexibility they so very much love. If they want to keep Tyler Smith at guard, fine.
Bringing on a player like Cleveland would immediately bolster the Cowboys' running game as he is a very effective run blocker. He graded out as the sixth-best run-blocking guard last season according to PFF. He’s had a run-blocking grade of 71.9 or better in three straight seasons, so this isn’t new territory for him. But what is new is his improvement in pass protection as he has a 72.9 pass-blocking grade. He’s only allowed a pressure 2.6% of the time. Currently, he boasts the ninth-best (out of 80) grade for guards this season.
To acquire Cleveland, it should only cost a Day 3 2024 pick and his contract is super cheap as he’s in the last year of his rookie deal. This is the type of low-cost trade we could see the Cowboys pulling off and it would fill one of the team’s biggest needs on the roster.
Why it makes sense for Minnesota
Cleveland has missed the last couple of games with a foot injury, but is expected back any time. In the meantime, the Vikings have started Dalton Risner as he was signed after the first two weeks of the season. This could be the direction they want to go now. And since Cleveland is in the final year of his rookie deal, the Vikings may attempt to get something for him instead of just letting him walk in free agency this offseason.
Minnesota also got some bad news on Sunday when their quarterback Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles against Green Bay. This could make the Vikings sellers at the trade deadline if they feel their playoff chances took a big hit.
Will it happen?
Jerry Jones has said he doesn’t expect the Cowboys to be doing anything at the trade deadline. Of course, we know what Jerry says and does aren’t always the same thing. Maybe he’s trying to appear disinterested in getting the right type of price on a player. Or maybe he feels confident in his team the way things are. Either is a fair possibility.
But what we do know is the Cowboys are struggling in the trenches and there is nothing coming down the pike that will bring an improvement. If anything, the risk of things getting worse is a legitimate concern. The Cowboys are contenders right now. If they beat Philadelphia next week, they would be in a great position in the NFC playoff race. You have to believe that the Cowboys are going to want to do what they can to shore up any weak spots on the roster. That doesn’t mean a blockbuster trade is coming as some fans would like, but it could include a low-cost deal that brings a solid upgrade to the team’s most susceptible roster position.