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Cowboys trade for QB Trey Lance a low-risk, high-reward opportunity

The price paid by the Cowboys of a fourth-round pick for Trey Lance feels pretty cheap for the potential gain.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Plenty of Friday nights got interrupted by the breaking news that the Dallas Cowboys traded for quarterback Trey Lance, the former third-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. With just a fourth-round pick headed to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange, Dallas has added a potentially significant talent at football’s preeminent position for relatively minimal cost.

Despite sending a bevy of future picks to the Miami Dolphins to move up and get Lance two years ago, the Niners have already given up on a supposed future franchise player. He sat behind Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie and was named the starter in 2022 but was lost to a season-ending ankle fracture.

Since then, late-round gem Brock Purdy has emerged as San Francisco’s new quarterback. With Sam Darnold arriving this offseason and being named the backup, Lance clearly had no home in the Bay Area. The 49ers have essentially cut their losses and gotten back what they could, albeit a pittance compared to the original investment.

Lance’s nosedive fall in Frisco may leave Cowboys fans dubious about his potential going forward, which is certainly reasonable. For the Niners to turn on him so quickly, and especially with no changes at head coach or general manager since he was drafted, leads to fair questions about his actual upside.

But still, this 23-year-old is only two years removed from being that third-overall pick. He was taken eight picks ahead of the Bears’ Justin Fields and twelve ahead of the Patriots’ Mac Jones, both starters going into 2023. Whether the 49ers fumbled Lance’s development in any way or if the back luck of the injury was more to blame, isn’t it worth finding out what untapped potential is still there?

The Cowboys are giving up their fourth-round pick in next year’s draft to take that chance. Last April, they acquired DE Viliami Fehoko at the 129th spot using their originally slotted spot in the round. Assuming it’s another playoff year for Dallas, next year’s fourth should once again be in the back half of the round in the 120-130 range.

The fourth round, as it should on Day 3, has historically come with heavily mixed results for the Cowboys. Yes, it’s where they picked up Dak Prescott in 2016, plus some other notable players like RB Tony Pollard, TE Dalton Schultz, C Tyler Biadasz, and DE Dorance Armstrong. But along with those have come plenty of forgettable selections since 2016: DE Charles Tapper, WR Ryan Switzer, and DB Reggie Robinson. The jury is still out on more recent picks like LB Jabril Cox, OL Josh Ball, TE Jake Ferguson, and Fehoko, but even here the trend seems to be continuing. Ferguson is looking like another gem while Cox and Ball are barely hanging on to roster spots in their third ears.

Given this consistent 50/50 nature with fourth-round picks, why not gamble one on a potential talent like Trey Lance? Why not potentially upgrade your backup QB spot for the next few years and perhaps bolster your insurance against a 30-year-old starter?

One thing that’s for certain; the Cowboys had no pipeline of QB talent going before this move. Cooper Rush, who turns 30 himself in November, and Will Grier have little long-term value. Grier might not have even made Dallas’ 53-man roster next week, having low enough stock the Cowboys could have risked leaving him on the practice squad.

If nothing else, Dallas used a fourth-round pick to upgrade from Grier to Lance for developmental purposes. They went from a 28-year-old who was a third-round pick in 2019 to a 23-year-old who was the third-overall pick in 2021. Maybe it will cost them a future starter at some other position; another Pollard or Biadasz. Or maybe it only cost them the next Tapper or Robinson who never even leaves a mark on the organization.

The future will tell whether or not this gamble pays off. But it’s certainly a chance worth taking, and the price to play is a relative steal compared to the potential gain. Trey Lance may be the most significant addition of QB talent by the Cowboys, at least based on pre-draft measures and scouting, since they drafted a big kid from UCLA in 1989. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least it represents an aggressive front-office maneuver consistent with the expressed desire to see this team finally get back to its former glory.

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