The Dallas Cowboys have a potentially massive long-term problem on their hands at the defensive end position, and that problem could be solved by trading their first-round pick for Miami Dolphins defensive end/outside linebacker Dion Jordan.
For some reason, the Dolphins are "gauging trade value" for Jordan:
MIA has been gauging trade value for '13 1st round pick Dion Jordan, league sources said, after trading up to 3rd overall for him last year— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) February 28, 2014
The fact that the Dolphins would consider trading Jordan at all is somewhat scary and should at least be a cause for concern. You'd think that Miami might know something about Jordan's health or work ethic that would propel them to move him less than a year after giving up the 12th and 42nd overall picks to trade up for him.
But let's not forget that this is also a team that gave $27 million in guaranteed money to a sub-200-pound wide receiver who's dependent on big plays for production. So it's not like they're leading the NFL in savvy roster decisions. As long as everything checks out from a health standpoint (both physical and mental), Jordan should be a highly coveted player.
After recording only two sacks and 26 combined tackles as a rookie, Jordan's perceived value isn't where it was this time a year ago. But that's kind of the point; the Cowboys are potentially in a position to "buy low" on an asset that most believe underachieved in year one.
If the Dolphins want to bail out now on a player whose upside is as high as any player in this upcoming draft, the Cowboys should be there to scoop him up.
Tale of the Tape
Jordan turned 24 years old Wednesday, and he's only a year removed from his time at Oregon. Should we factor Jordan's rookie year into our assessment of him? Of course, but considering he received only 339 total snaps as a rookie, we can also judge him as if he's basically a first-year player.
So what if we were grading Jordan as an incoming rookie? He's 6'6", 260 pounds with 33.88" arms. So far, so good. He also ran a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 10'2" in the broad jump. Those numbers would rank him third and seventh, respectively, among defensive linemen in this year's draft class.
The main concern for Jordan coming out of college was his production. It wasn't horrible, but with 12.5 total sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons, he also wasn't off the charts. Those stats are good, but probably not "top-five pick" good, everything else being equal.
Putting on the Pressure
Jordan's rookie season in Miami was widely considered a bust because he recorded only two sacks. However, considering he rushed the passer only 206 times, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and was able to pressure the quarterback at an elite rate, Jordan's first year wasn't as bad as people believe.
Looking at pressure rate, which is the percentage of pass-rushing snaps on which a player hurries the quarterback, we see Jordan was actually really good.
Jordan didn't play as many snaps as the other rushers, but the fact that he recorded a higher pressure rate than Greg Hardy, widely considered one of the top young pass-rushers in the NFL, shows you something.
So why only two sacks? Well, Jordan got unlucky. There's good evidence to show that most pass-rushers bring down the quarterback on right around 25 percent of their pressures; that is, for every four times a pass-rusher hurries the quarterback, he typically records one sack. Getting to the passer is a skill, but obtaining a sack once you're already there is a much more random occurrence.
If you examine Jordan's sack-to-pressure ratio during his rookie year, you see it's quite low.
You always want sacks, of course, but pressures are even more important than sacks when predicting future sacks. The fact that Jordan was able to reach the quarterback suggests he's going to generate plenty of sacks in the NFL but was just unlucky in his rookie year. Based on his pressures alone, his most likely sack total was 4.5, not 2.0.
What About the Money?
One possible concern about trading for Jordan is his contract. The Cowboys don't have very much cap space with which to work.
However, even as the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, Jordan's contract is far from prohibitive. Over the Cap has his 2014 cap hit at only $4.7 million, with $16.8 million guaranteed remaining on his deal. In comparison, right tackle Doug Free's 2014 cap number is $6.5 million.
Plus, the "real" cost of Jordan is his contract minus whatever the Cowboys would need to pay their first-round pick in 2014, since they'd move that selection in order to acquire Jordan.
Why a First-Round Pick?
Dallas should try to obtain Jordan as cheaply as possible, of course, but it would make sense for them to go as high as their first-round pick at No. 16 overall. They might want to start by offering a second and fourth, for example, but up the ante if need be.
To make the deal valuable for Dallas, they'd have to view Jordan as, say, a potential top-10 pick in this year's class. From what we knew about Jordan last year and what he displayed as a rookie, that seems reasonable.
Further, this particular class is very weak at defensive end. After South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, there isn't a can't-miss prospect in the first round. CBS Sports has Missouri's Kony Ealy and Auburn's Dee Ford as the top available players, but each has some issues. Ealy mustered more than 3.5 sacks in just one college season (and never more than 8.0), while Ford is 252 pounds and will probably play outside linebacker in the NFL.
It comes down to this: If Jordan were theoretically available when Dallas is on the clock at No. 16 overall this year, would they draft him? Given how highly he was viewed in 2013 and how underrated his rookie season was, that seems highly likely.
Surrendering their mid-first-round selection would be a small price for Dallas to pay for a player who is extremely likely to become a dominant pass-rusher as soon as this season.