On Friday we learned that the Rams are listening to trade offers on three-time All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, opening up the door for the Cowboys to make up for passing on him way back in the 2016 NFL Draft. Ironically, this is happening in the same offseason where Dallas is weighing the possibility of moving on from Ezekiel Elliott, whom they took fourth overall instead of Ramsey.
It’s not all that surprising for the Rams. They’re coming off a 5-12 finish, the first losing record of Sean McVay’s head coaching career, and look to be entering the early stages of a rebuild. Los Angeles is currently over the cap by nearly $15 million and Ramsey, who has three years left on his contract, will carry a cap hit of $25.2 million in 2023.
There is no doubt that trading for Ramsey would be a home run move akin to the Eagles trading for A.J. Brown a year ago. It’s exactly the type of aggressive move the Cowboys have been highly averse to over the last decade, which has drawn plenty of criticism.
The Cowboys have fielded elite defenses each of the last two years, but they’ve lacked a top flight cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs each of those two years. Anthony Brown has been better than anyone would care to admit, but his injury this season laid bare how badly Dallas needs a legitimate CB2. Rookie DaRon Bland took firm grasp of the starting slot role, so adding Ramsey to he and Diggs would erase the biggest weakness of this very strong defense.
The problem is that adding Ramsey would be really, really difficult for the Cowboys. They’re currently $7.5 million over the cap, meaning they’ll need a series of restructures and extensions (looking at you, Dak Prescott) just to be cap compliant. Then there’s all the players they want to keep, headlined by Tony Pollard. If Dallas does indeed hit Pollard with the franchise tag, that’s $10 million right there. There are still other names to consider, like Terence Steele, Leighton Vander Esch, Donovan Wilson, Dalton Schultz, Connor McGovern, and Jason Peters. Not all of those names will be re-signed, but the Cowboys have a lot of work to do just to be able to afford those guys and have enough money to sign their draft picks (usually a maximum of $9 million total but often less than that).
Add Ramsey into the equation, now. The Rams are not looking to trade him because he’s not good anymore; while Ramsey had a down year, it was more indicative of the team as a whole than his individual performance. The Rams are considering this to save money. In fact, there is an out in Ramsey’s contract for this offseason that allows Los Angeles to save up to $17 million in cap space, depending on whether the trade occurs before or after June 1st.
In a typical trade of Ramsey, the Cowboys would be getting him for a base salary of $17 million in 2023 while having the option to cut him after the season with no dead cap on their end. But these types of trades often involve shifting those dead cap responsibilities somewhat, especially in an attempt to lower the cost of assets being returned to the Rams. Dallas would likely have to absorb a chunk of Ramsey’s still very expensive contract, giving them less long-term flexibility.
There’s also the question of how much Dallas would have to give up for Ramsey. Los Angeles gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to secure his services initially. Ramsey won’t cost that much this time around, but it’s probably a safe bet that the Rams will look to earn at least a first-round pick, if not an additional pick on the second or third day of the draft.
The Cowboys have generally been cautious about giving up draft capital for players, an expression of belief in their scouting department’s ability. They traded a first-round pick for Amari Cooper, of course, but that was only after they had been pushed into desperation after a 3-4 start to the season that saw their gamble on Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Deonte Thompson fail miserably. The Cowboys aren’t desperate for a cornerback right now, and are likely looking to target the position with one of their top two picks in this draft.
If the Cowboys were to pull off a trade for Ramsey, it would silence many of Jerry and Stephen Jones’ critics, at least until the season began. Such a move would signal that the front office was finally getting serious about building a roster that can win another championship. But the logistics of making it happen are really, really complicated for Dallas. That’s not to say it can’t or won’t happen, but it would sure take a lot of salary cap tinkering to make it work. So it may be best to stop holding your breath on this one.