Death, taxes, and Jerry Jones going after another team’s former first-rounder.
The Dallas Cowboys are really good at evaluating the top players in the draft as they have an impressive track record of landing some nice talent on Day 1. But they aren’t happy with just drafting their own studs. They also like to go after other teams’ first-rounders as well. In fact, the trade for Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks now makes it 10 straight seasons the Cowboys have acquired another team’s former first-rounder. Today, we’ll take a stroll down memory lane.
Traded for Rolando McClain (8th overall pick in 2010)
When Sean Lee was lost for the season from a fluke training camp injury, the Cowboys rolled the dice by trading a sixth-round draft pick for McClain, who was retired at the time. RoMac gave the Cowboys two solid seasons, compiling 161 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Also that year...
Signed Brandon Weeden (22nd overall pick in 2012)
A Tony Romo injury late in the 2013 season cost the Cowboys a trip to the playoffs when Kyle Orton couldn’t get the job done in the season finale, so Dallas attempted to improve the backup QB spot by signing Weeden the following. He only lasted a year and a half when another Romo injury showed that Weeden wasn’t the answer.
Signed Darren McFadden (4th overall pick in 2008)
The Cowboys let DeMarco Murray leave in free agency after a 1,845-yard performance in 2014. Instead, the Cowboys went with the more affordable McFadden who in his first year in Dallas put up a career-high 239 carries en route to just his second-ever 1,000-yard season. Run DMc would gradually be phased out after the arrival of Ezekiel Elliott.
Signed Mark Sanchez (5th overall pick in 2009)
Sanchez was acquired more for his veteran mentorship of Dak Prescott than his on-field skills. His most memorable moment was throwing two picks in the season finale against the Eagles to cost the Cowboys what would have been their first-ever 14-win season.
Signed Jonathan Cooper (7th overall pick in 2013)
The Arizona Cardinals got the better end of the deal when they shipped off the disappointing Cooper to New England for the young edge rusher Chandler Jones. The Patriots parted ways with him a few months later and it looked like the end was near. The Cowboys signed him to a cheap one-year deal where he held down the fort at left guard after Ron Leary left for a sizeable payday in free agency.
Also that year...
Signed Datone Jones (26th overall pick in 2013)
The quick defensive tackle made it all the way through his rookie deal with Green Bay, but struggled to find a home in 2017 as he had stints in Minnesota, Detroit, and San Francisco before finishing off the year with the Cowboys. He only played in four total games across two seasons with Dallas and his contribution was minimal.
Traded for Amari Cooper (4th overall pick in 2015)
The splashiest move the Cowboys have made over the past decade came when they traded a first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for the 24-year-old receiver. Cooper put up over 1,000 yards in his first three seasons in Dallas before slightly falling off in 2021. The Cowboys traded him away to Cleveland last offseason and he immediately went back to his 1,000-yard ways, proving he’s still a pretty good receiver in this league.
Also that year...
Traded for Tavon Austin (8th overall pick in 2013)
Prior to acquiring Cooper, the Cowboys sought out answers at receiver for cheaper prices and one of those moves was to acquire Austin for a sixth-round pick. Austin didn’t turn out to be the answer they were looking for as he never had over 200 yards in either of the two seasons he spent in Dallas.
Traded for Robert Quinn (14th overall pick in 2011)
Quinn was sensational early in his career, but things started to slow down for him as he was approaching 30 years of age. The Dolphins traded him to Dallas for a sixth-round draft pick where he proceeded to reach double-digit sacks for the first time in his last five seasons. He was a force on the edge during his short stay in Dallas and it earned him a big contract the following year with the Bears. The Eagles traded a fourth-round pick for him midway through last year, but he didn’t amount to much only playing nine games and never recording a sack.
Signed Aldon Smith (7th overall pick in 2011)
Keeping with the theme of reviving the career of one-time elite edge rushers, the Cowboys signed Smith to a low-cost one-year deal in hopes that there was some juice left in the player who had 19.5 sacks in 2012. Smith, who had been suspended in the previous four seasons, showed up and played all 16 games for the Cowboys recording five sacks. He even picked up a fumble and scampered 78 yards for a touchdown.
Also that year...
Signed Gerald McCoy (3rd overall pick in 2010)
McCoy was one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL for the better part of his career, having a stretch of six-straight Pro Bowl appearances before the age of 30. After being released from Tampa Bay, he played one year with Carolina, but he was showing signs of decline; however, it didn’t deter the Cowboys from signing him to a three-year, $18 million deal. Unfortunately, he was injured in training camp and was released before the season started, causing the Cowboys to eat $3 million in dead money.
Signed Dontari Poe (11th overall pick 2012)
The Cowboys double-dipped in free agency to beef up the interior defensive line when they put up the cash for both McCoy and Poe. And like McCoy, Poe would be a huge disappointment. While he managed to stay healthy, his performance was so dismal that the Cowboys released him midway through the season, still costing the team $4 million. In Mike McCarthy’s first year as head coach the Cowboys were uncharacteristically spending more money in free agency and they were quickly reminded why that’s not a path they like to take.
Signed Cameron Erving (19th overall pick in 2015)
It wasn’t all bad in free agency as the Cowboys got a nice contribution from one of their low-cost investments. Erving was added for depth and it was a good thing as the Cowboys had all kinds of health issues along the offensive line in 2020. Erving did a solid job making five starts for Dallas that season.
Signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21st overall pick in 2014)
With little to no attention given to the safety position, it looked like maybe things were changing when the Cowboys signed Clinton-Dix to a one-year, $3.75 million deal. A former player under McCarthy, Clinton-Dix had an All-Pro season in 2016 and fans were excited about his potential. Sadly, nothing ever manifested as he didn’t even survive the final roster cuts.
Signed Malik Hooker (15th overall pick in 2017)
Hooker was a talented safety prospect from Ohio State, but unfortunately had trouble staying healthy in each of his four seasons with Indianapolis, including a season-ending Achilles injury suffered during the final year of his rookie deal. The Cowboys signed him to a super cheap one-year deal where he played a career-high 15 games. His solid play earned him a two-year deal with Dallas last offseason where he played in another career-high 16 games, including a Week 13 shellacking of his former team where he had an interception and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.
Also that year...
Signed Keanu Neal (17th overall pick in 2016)
Similar to Clinton-Dix the previous year, Neal was a safety who was four years removed from a Pro Bowl appearance and was signed for a similar price. But unlike Clinton-Dix, Neal actually made the roster and played 14 games for the Cowboys. He was also switched to the linebacker position to play to his strength in the running game. Neal never looked like the player he once was in Atlanta, but gave the team a solid piece to the linebacker group.
Signed Dante Fowler (3rd overall pick in 2015)
After being selected third overall, Fowler’s career in Jacksonville started with disappointment. He was traded to Los Angeles midway through the final year of his rookie contract and actually helped the Rams during their run to the Super Bowl in 2018. He even recorded a sack against Dak Prescott (although it was La’el Collins who actually sacked him) in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Fowler signed a one-year, $12 deal with the Rams the following season and had 11.5 sacks. That earned him a three-year, $45 million deal with Atlanta where he played under Dan Quinn. The Falcons released him last offseason and the Cowboys signed him to a cheap one-year deal a month later. Fowler did a solid job for Dallas last year producing six sacks in just 30% of the snaps.
Also that year...
Signed Anthony Barr (9th overall pick in 2014)
Barr was actually on the Cowboys' radar back in the 2014 draft, but he was selected by the Minnesota Vikings a few spots before the Cowboys were on the clock. He played well early in his career going to four straight Pro Bowls from 2015-2018. His play has declined and the Cowboys were able to get him for cheap last offseason. Barr played in 14 games last year (starting in 10) and while he wasn’t splashy, he was solid and gave the team depth.
Signed Xavier Rhodes (25th overall pick in 2013)
Rhodes is another longtime Viking/former Pro Bowler who the Cowboys signed last year. His play has declined since leaving Minnesota as he had short stints with Indianapolis and then Buffalo. After the Bills released him in January, the Cowboys quickly signed him to their practice squad and he even saw 24 snaps in the Wild Card playoff game against the Buccaneers.
Signed Takkarist McKinley (26th overall pick in 2017)
It’s been rumored that McKinley would’ve been the Cowboys' draft pick in 2017 had the Falcons not traded ahead of them to pick him. As a result, Dallas selected another edge rusher in Taco Charlton. While Charlton was a bust, McKinley wasn’t a whole lot better. After small stints with the Browns and Rams, Dallas signed him to their practice squad in November. He never saw any playing time with the Cowboys.
Traded for Stephon Gilmore (10th overall pick in 2012)
This 11-year cornerback has played well with every team he’s been on from the Super Bowl-winning Patriots to the struggling Colts last year. It only cost the Cowboys a fifth-round pick to acquire him, but he’ll carry a $10 million cap hit this season. That’s a fair price to play for a player who can reliably handle one of the outside corner positions. How this plays out is still unknown, but fans have to feel good about this move.
Traded for Brandin Cooks (20th overall in 2014)
The well-traveled wide receiver has been in the league for nine years and he’s had over 1,000 yards receiving in six of them. The most recent being in 2021 with the Davis Mills’ led Houston Texans. Cooks has had trouble finding a home as he’s now been traded four times (twice for a first-rounder, once for a second-rounder, and now for a couple of late-round Day 3 draft picks). Cooks immediately bolsters the Cowboys' receiving room and should give the offense the spark it’s been missing.
Not only have the Cowboys now gone 10 straight years acquiring another team’s former first-rounder, but they also have gotten a first-rounder from 10 straight draft classes from 2008 to 2017. One thing about this list that is rather interesting is how these players can be grouped into the following categories:
- Low-cost investments that played above their contract price (RoMac, J. Cooper, Hooker)
- Market-price investments that played below their contract price (McCoy, Poe, Ha Ha)
- Trades for proven commodities that made an immediate impact (Amari, Quinn)
These outcomes are good justifications for why the Cowboys do what they do. They make low-cost investments because they are low-risk and offer a greater chance for players to outperform their costs. When it doesn’t work, they cut him and move on. And outside of a terrible free agency year in 2020, the Cowboys tend to stay away from winning the bidding war on outside free agents. However, they are not opposed to surrendering draft capital if it brings a proven talent at a position of need to their team. The first-round streak is kind of cool, but the roster-building methods should make fans feel better about how this team operates.