With bounty-gate and concussions dominating the headlines in the most recent offseason, it’s no surprise that a minor rule change would fly under the radar. The one I’m referring to is the NFL and NFLPA agreeing to extend the trade deadline from Week 6 to Week 8.
I’ll avoid the political and financial reasons behind this decision and instead focus on what it means for our beloved Dallas Cowboys.
With seven weeks complete Jerry Jones has one week to broker a trade before the deadline expires. I don’t anticipate any ground-shaking moves. This isn’t baseball after all, where winners are buying and losers are selling. Furthermore, I’m not so quick to label the 3-3 Cowboys losers, or winners for that matter. But a major, franchise-changing trade is highly unlikely.
Regardless, there’s nothing wrong with compiling a wish list of players throughout the league that could have an immediate impact on the Cowboys’ season, as long as it’s done so with a realistic point of view.
It’s not as if the Cowboys are in position to repeat the “Great Train Robbery” of 1989, in which Jimmy Johnson engineered a trade that moved running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings and in return got five players and eight draft picks.
But they are in a situation that requires a bit of studying and possibly a bit of a shakeup. As cliché as it may be to declare the NFL a game of inches, it may be even more cliché to declare it a game of depth.
And that’s precisely why the Cowboys would even consider a trade of any condition: depth. As we near the midpoint of the 2012 season, injuries are piling up, as are revelations. We’re starting to see which players aren’t going to cut it if the Cowboys are going to compete.
To quote an SNL skit (2:30 mark), “You take it one step at a time: identify the problem, and fix it!” There’s plenty of identifying to do and plenty of problems to fix in Dallas.
The dream scenario would be targeting Eric Berry in Kansas City and relieving a few draft picks plus whatever it would take to get him in Dallas. The Cowboys are in tough shape after Barry Church was lost for the season. Danny McCray has been filling in and hasn’t been terrible, but he’s not the kind of player who is going to withstand a long season in the NFC East with any sort of production. To make matters worse Matt Johnson tweaked a hamstring and is once again on the injury report.
The reality is the Cowboys can’t afford Berry and the Chiefs wouldn’t be even close to considering letting go of their star safety.
But, keeping our eyes on the AFC, the Cowboys might be able to swing a deal for Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have a small financial investment in Clark and would most likely be open to letting him walk if there were a draft pick on the table. Unfortunately, with Troy Polamalu battling injuries, the Cowboys would have to invest more than they can afford, to acquire Clark. It’s a nice thought, but finding a safety via trade isn’t going to happen in a limited window.
Right Tackle/Right Guard
The truth here is that any situation that involves the Cowboys improving their offensive line is a good situation. Even if it means letting go of a skill position player.
The dream is replacing the entire offensive line. I’m laughing and crying just thinking about it. It’s really that bad. And just when we thought it was going to get better with how well Phil Costa played against the Ravens after returning from injury last week, he gets hurt this week against the Panthers.
The biggest problem in the NFL is finding good tackles and guards. There seems be a huge need for this position so teams that have them aren’t letting them go, and teams that need them are constantly trying new packages with different players, praying for some level of consistency.
That’s where Dez Bryant and the San Francisco 49ers come in to play. What I’m about to suggest will anger Cowboys fans, but the idea of Bryant on the West Coast should bring huge smiles to San Francisco. The 49ers not only have one of the best offensive lines in football, they have depth. The only thing that this team is really missing is a game-changing wide receiver.
Is Bryant a game-changing wide receiver? That remains to be seen. But I think the 49ers front office would be willing to gamble a couple of offensive linemen to find out.
Should the Cowboys gamble Bryant, a guy with more talent than a considerable amount of players in the league? I guess it depends. That’s the problem with structuring trades. Every owner thinks their players are better than everyone else thinks they are. If you play fantasy football you know that. But Bryant is better than any wide receiver the 49ers have on their team right now. In contrast, the Cowboys have a roster of pass-catchers that they’ve never even seen in action.
We’re left assuming that Bryant and Miles Austin with a mix of Kevin Ogletree are the best options they have. We assume that the coaches have watched all of the preseason and practice tape and have determined that these three receivers are better than anyone else on the roster.
We know that Austin is a true No. 1. We know he’s seeing some tough coverage, whether outside or in the slot, and has made plays regardless. So what if Bryant wasn’t there? What if they were forced to play Dwayne Harris or Cole Beasley? What if they would have paid Laurent Robinson?
It’s all irrelevant at this point. The question is would the 49ers bite? Bryant has done little to prove his case. He would be a tough sell. But if the Cowboys could get a couple of offensive linemen and maybe a draft pick, they should definitely do it.
I’ll settle on this point by offering the following scenario. Let’s imagine the Cowboys are in a third-and-six situation and have to convert or the game is over. Would you rather have a terrible offensive line, much like the one they have now, and Bryant lined up wide left; or would you rather have a conceivably good offensive line, and (pick a receiver)?
A Pass Rusher
The Cowboys defense is playing better than it has in years. As it should. With major upgrades at cornerback and a solid group of linebackers, Dallas' defense should be highly regarded as one of the best in the league.
But there is still a key issue that is holding this defense back. And that is getting pressure on the quarterback. You would think that a team that fields a couple of great cover corners and the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee would also have more sacks than 12 at this point in the season. Alas, middle of the road is their current path.
A lot of that has to do with the push up front. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff missed the first four games of the season with a high ankle sprain, and no sooner did he get healthy than did Sean Lissemore get injured. That’s the way it goes in the NFL. When one window opens, another one closes.
So how do you fix it? By mixing in some 4-3 as a base defense. The concept of a 3-4 versus a 4-3 is getting blurred, but the practice is still very clear-cut. We’re still looking to disguise the blitzing linebacker(s) and still hoping to develop coverage. The only thing that changes is personnel.
I’ve always been a firm believer that a 3-4 defense is superior. Over the past couple of seasons, I’m converting. We’ve identified clichés in the NFL as being a game of inches and depth; adding to that is a game of pass-happy, quarterback-first offenses. It would only make sense that the evolution of the game is going to generate more 4-3 defensive packages as teams attempt to get more pressure on the quarterback.
We can argue all day which scheme is better, but the truth is, it’s all about personnel and depth. Right now, the Cowboys have a lot more depth at linebacker than they do at linemen. You hate to steal from situation to assist to another, but I don’t know that the Cowboys have much of choice.
And I’m of course dreaming of Chandler Jones and his five sacks, 31 tackles and three forced fumbles. It’s a terrible hindsight when you consider that the Cowboys would have most likely drafted Jones, had they not made the sacrifice for Morris Claiborne. And now here we are, considering what it would take to make a trade for a defensive end that could dramatically change this defense.
Jones could play in a 3-4 but is best served as a 4-3 pass-rusher. So as we see Dallas playing more and more of the latter, we start to truly wonder, what if Jerry would have just left well enough alone? And what would it take to get Jones here now? Morris Claiborne? I’d make that trade tomorrow.
Just kidding. I’d cancel my Sunday NFL Ticket and never watch football again if the Cowboys made a trade for Tim Tebow.