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Potential gains from Cowboys trading back in 2023 NFL Draft

A look at what Dallas could reasonably hope to gain in a trade-back scenario.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve probably seen a lot of talk already that the Cowboys might trade back in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. There’s good reason for this assumption, so what can Dallas reasonably hope to get back in such a trade?

The Cowboys have set themselves up beautifully for this draft. Their free agent/trade moves have shored up many needs and given the team a lot of flexibility on Thursday night. As such, when they’re on the clock at #26, Dallas could have their pick of any number of desirable prospects at many different positions

In that likely scenario, it makes sense for the team to attempt to trade back. If they feel confident that players they'd like at the 26th pick will still be there 5-10 slots later, why not get yourself an extra pick or two later in the draft? It’s a risk, but you know the old saying about “scared money.”

There are various philosophies out there about the mathematical value of draft picks. There is the traditional chart from the Jimmy Johnson days and updated versions credited to the Patriots and others.

No matter which one you prefer, the core concept is the same. Each pick is worth a certain amount of points and teams are seeking an equitable return in a trade.

For example, the Cowboys’ first-round pick is worth 700 points according to the traditional chart. The New York Giants’ pick above them, 25th overall, is worth 720 points. Below them at #27 are the Buffalo Bills, whose pick is worth 680 points.

That 20-point difference in either direction, and especially the additional differences that come with each slot, is where multiple picks and swaps come into play. Let’s say that the New Orleans Saints, currently picking 29th in the first round (640 points), want to move up ahead of the Bills. They would potentially need to give Dallas about 60 points of additional value.

This is where the math stops and human beings take over. It’s not always a simple equation; some teams are more desperate to move up or back and are willing to give more or accept less to facilitate a move. A bidding war could create greater gains for trading back, or the lack of willing partners could force you to take less in return.

In the scenario we just discussed, New Orleans might offer Dallas their fourth-round pick, 115th overall, to swap picks in the first round. It’s traditionally worth 64 points (64+640=704) and the Saints would just eat that four-point difference. Or, if they wanted to get stingy, they might ask the Cowboys for their seventh-round pick (worth less than 2 points) to help even out the value.

That gives us an idea of what Dallas could do by dropping back just three slots, going from 26th to 29th. Even that modest move would get them another fourth-round pick. But if they want more, then naturally that means going back much further and potentially even out of the first round entirely.

Trading out of the first round entirely comes with a cost; you lose the fifth-year option on your top draft pick’s rookie contract. But that’s also a caveat that helps drive up the asking price in negotiations.

Another factor here is whether or not you’re focused on getting as many picks as possible. A team might take two fourth-round picks instead of one third-round pick if the math makes sense, depending on how concerned they are with landing certain prospects at different points in the draft.

Again, and this can’t be stressed enough, there’s the human element here. The math lays a base but other factors come into play, particularly if a certain prospect falls and a team is desperate to get him. If a certain QB prospect were to slide to the 26th pick, who knows what offers could come Dallas’ way?

Given their own situation and the many variables floating around from 31 other teams, there’s strong potential for the Cowboys to trade back in the 2023 NFL Draft. How profitable that would be depends on some things we can’t project until Thursday night, but you can be confident that Dallas is exploring its options.

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