The Cowboys know what it takes to make a trade in the all-virtual 2020 NFL draft.
Dallas mocked a swap during Monday’s leaguewide test run, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. A technology glitch ensued. One of the Cowboys’ various technical backup plans ensured the trade could still be executed successfully.
But dress rehearsal aside: Don’t expect the Cowboys to deal the No. 17 pick come Thursday night for anything other than alternate selections.
“Probably unlikely to make a draft pick trade for an established star,” Jones said Tuesday on a call with local reporters.
The Cowboys have been linked to New York Jets safety Jamal Adams dating back to around last season's trade deadline. Adams previously expressed his discontent with the Jets and said in October he “would love to go” to the Cowboys, in his hometown Dallas, though he maintained this offseason he expects to re-sign with New York. Safety has been a weakness for the Cowboys in recent years, with the team signing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in March after Jeff Heath left for the Raiders. Jets general manager Joe Douglas said Monday said he would be open to fielding calls for the All-Pro.
Cowboys management says not so fast on the trade speculation.
“The idea of trading a very valuable number one for an existing player that’s more than likely going to cost you more is unlikely,” Jones said. “I would say theoretically it is. I would say specifically it is.
“Highly unlikely we wouldn't have the pick there to use within the top of the draft or to trade for potential other drafts picks.”
NFL draft: Which teams could shake up first round by trading up or back?
The team is averse to dealing its first-round draft selection for a second consecutive year for multiple reasons. First, Dallas' decision-makers say they feel good about the draft depth at positions of need, including defensive back and defensive end. They believe they can address a deficiency with their mid-round pick, especially in a year when the first round could feature a slew of quarterbacks and offensive tackles being taken early, as happened in USA TODAY Network’s mock draft this week.
“I like our 17th hole,” Jones said. “I like the spot we’re in at 17. There’s quality without a question.”
A second factor: The Cowboys believe the first-round depth could spur another team to offer draft capital in exchange for pick No. 17. Jones pointed to how well that worked for Dallas in 2013, when the Cowboys traded back from 18 to 31 and gained a third-round selection from San Francisco in the process.
Their first-round selection that year, center Travis Frederick, earned Pro Bowl berths in five of his six seasons before retiring last month. Frederick started all 96 games in those five seasons (an autoimmune disorder sidelined him in 2018). With San Francisco’s third-round selection, the Cowboys selected receiver Terrance Williams. Williams played 83 games with 68 starts, catching 232 passes for 3,377 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“There’s enough here to work with,” Jones said of another trade-down. “There’s quality enough players that if you decided to trade, that there could be someone coming to you. … That circumstance is possible.”
But perhaps the most prohibitive reason the Cowboys don’t want to surrender draft capital for a star comes down to the salary cap.
The Cowboys signed receiver Amari Cooper — whom they dealt their 2019 first-round draft selection to acquire — to a five-year, $100 million extension last month. Dallas also shelled out cash for starters including defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (five years, $105 million) and running back Ezekiel Elliott (six years, $90 million) last offseason. And the Cowboys have placed an exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott.
Their goal, as reiterated Monday by Stephen Jones: Lock up Prescott long term by the July 15 deadline. Should Prescott sign the tag rather than negotiate a multi-year deal, he will count $31.4 million against the $198.2 million 2020 salary cap, a person with knowledge of the franchise-tag value confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person was granted anonymity because they were not publicly authorized to discuss cap figures.
Mike McCarthy declines to confirm whether QB Dak Prescott attended Cowboys virtual offseason program. Reiterates program is voluntary. Said Dak, and players, have been enthusiastic. pic.twitter.com/L0jAoGNv8c
Mike McCarthy on whether Dak Prescott’s attending virtual offseason meetings: “We don’t do roll call publicly. Dak’s been part of it as far as the communication with the coaches.”
All of this means the Cowboys need talent on less-expensive rookie contracts to fill voids.
They’ll look to the draft—where they found Prescott, Elliott, Lawrence and more in recent years—to find it.
The Cowboys lost six starters in free agency. Defensive end Robert Quinn, cornerback Byron Jones, Heath, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, tight end Jason Witten and receiver Randall Cobb signed with other teams. Dallas landed multiple veteran starters, including Clinton-Dix and defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. The team has the rights to pass rushers Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith, should either suspended player win his reinstatement battle with the league.
But holes remain. Scheme changes on both offense and defense will value personnel differently.
Latest on Cowboys offensive scheme: Mike McCarthy is bringing in a “different offense.” They’ll aim to build off principles that have worked well for Dak and OL. But it’s a new offense.
The Cowboys' brain trust will look to find immediate contributors this weekend. They also said they’ll aim to develop another young quarterback under coach Mike McCarthy.
Jerry and Stephen Jones, along with McCarthy, said they’re not concerned about technical difficulties amid the virtual draft. Organization members have already run through their draft board virtually multiple times, McCarthy said. Jerry Jones said he thinks the communication has been “seamless.”
“It’s been very organized,” McCarthy agreed. “Very productive.”
Consensuses are building.
That’s not to say a virtual draft won’t eliminate some camaraderie. Jerry Jones laughed about the physicality they’ll miss through the screen.
“I'm going to miss a little of that punching around at the table as we're conducting this draft,” he said. “One of the things I'm not going to miss is when I came out of those draft rooms over the weekend, my old shins used to have big old bruises on them.
“That was from Stephen kicking me under the table for three straight days relative to some of our decision-making.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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