Trading Up for Kyle Pitts Would Be 1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back for CowboysApril 9, 2021
There isn't a six-win team in the NFL that enters the 2021 season with higher expectations than the Dallas Cowboys. As America's Team, it comes with the territory, even if said team hasn't won a Super Bowl since the mid-1990s.
By virtue of last year's injury-marred disappointment of a campaign, the Cowboys hold the 10th overall pick in the 2021 draft—a selection that should offer the franchise the opportunity to add an impact player.
However, according to recent reports, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has his sights set even higher. On a wildly athletic and gifted pass-catcher who could be the first non-quarterback to come off the board. A player who would likely cost the Cowboys substantial draft capital to acquire.
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is an electric talent and arguably the most dangerous skill-position player in his class. The 20-year-old hauled in 43 passes for 770 yards and a dozen touchdowns in just eight games with the Gators in 2020. Adding him would give Dallas one of the most lethal cadres of receiving talent in the NFL.
But in doing so at the expense of addressing the most glaring flaw on the roster, the Cowboys will be even further from Super Bowl contention. It's one step forward and two steps back.
Simply put, it's a bad idea.
While appearing on his network's draft special, ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen reported that Jones has become more than enamored with Pitts (h/t Clint Buckley of 247Sports):
"We're hearing this thing about Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys and the GM, being infatuated with Kyle Pitts. So I figure he's gonna have to trade up to get Kyle Pitts. I think he'll offer Emmitt Smith and Larry Allen, maybe throw in Michael Irvin. He doesn't need Tony Romo but he has Dak Prescott, he spent $40 million a year on Dak Prescott so why not go get Kyle Pitts, or if he actually falls to 10 you couldn't rule him out."
Kidding aside, it's not hard to see why Jones would become infatuated with Pitts. The 6'5", 245-pounder has the size of a tight end and the 4.44-second speed of a high-end wide receiver. To say Pitts is a matchup nightmare is an understatement.
While appearing on ESPN's College Football Podcast (h/t Robbie Weinstein of 247Sports), Todd McShay went so far as to say that if he had to tab one player from this year's draft to be enshrined in Canton, Pitts would be the guy:
"He's a wide receiver in a bigger body. So now, you got a guy who can separate, he can get off the press and then you've got guy who can shield you as a big-bodied guy who can go up and get the ball on contested catches. So he does it all. I think we've seen in the league, if you have a special player at tight end, whether it's Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce in Kansas City, if you have one of these players, he can change everything for you. Because he is able to create mismatches, and then take players out of the box. [You can] throw to the opposite side with your other receivers, run the ball...you just have so many opportunities when you get a special player Pitts. And I think he's going to be one of the premier players in the NFL. And I think when it's all said and done, he's got a chance to be a Hall of Famer."
Now that's hype.
Assuming for a moment that Pitts is a fraction of the force that draftniks almost universally consider him to be, there is zero question that adding him to a receiver room that already includes Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and youngster CeeDee Lamb would make the Cowboys terrifying to defend. Someone would be wide-open on just about every play.
But it's still a bad idea.
For starters, there's the matter of the draft capital it would take to pull off a trade up. Yes, in theory a move to No. 4 (Atlanta—a spot Pitts has been mocked to more than once) should only cost a couple of Day 2 picks, per Jimmy Johnson's old trade value chart.
News flash: The odds that the Atlanta Falcons are going to move back a handful of spots for that relatively meager compensation are slim to none (with emphasis on the latter). Not in a year when the San Francisco 49ers dealt three first-rounders to move up nine spots and the Miami Dolphins surrendered two to move from No. 12 to No. 6 after that deal with San Francisco.
Many a draft analyst has posited that Miami moved back up into the top 10 to target a pass-catcher, whether it's Pitts or LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase. The chances of Pitts falling to No. 7 (Detroit) aren't especially good.
That means in order to make this work, Dallas' first-rounder in 2022 has to be in play. And using two firsts on a tight end (even one as promising as Pitts) is a really bad idea for the Cowboys—for a couple of reasons.
The first is that while Pitts would be a welcome addition to any NFL offense, the Cowboys don't need him. Far from it, in fact. In Cooper, Gallup and Lamb, Dallas already has one of the more potent trios of wideouts in the league. For most of his career, Ezekiel Elliott has been among the most productive running backs in the NFL. Blake Jarwin is a capable young tight end. Injuries decimated the offensive line in 2020, but when healthy, it's a solid unit.
With Prescott sidelined for 11 games last year by a fractured ankle, the Cowboys still ranked in the top half of the league in total offense. In 2019, Dallas was first in total offense, second in passing offense and sixth in scoring offense—and that was without Lamb on the roster.
Moving the ball and scoring points isn't the problem in Dallas. Stopping opponents from doing the same is.
In 2020, the Cowboys allowed 386.4 yards per game—10th-most in the league. The team surrendered 29.6 points per game—fifth most in the league. And the Cowboys ranked 23rd in Defensive DVOA last year, per Football Outsiders, last in the NFC East.
As presently constructed, the Cowboys may well already have the best offense in their division. They most assuredly have the worst defense. Edge-rusher and cornerback are both urgent needs on that side of the ball. With the 10th overall pick, Dallas could land a high-end cornerback prospect like Patrick Surtain II of Alabama or a top edge-rusher like Michigan's Kwity Paye.
Both would arguably make Dallas a better team in 2021 than Pitts—without sacrificing future draft capital in the process.
This isn't to say there is no possible scenario in which trading up for Pitts makes sense. If he somehow falls to the seventh pick or later and the Cowboys can pull off a trade without sacrificing the team's first-rounder next year, then an argument can be made that Pitts' talent is worth the sacrifice.
But that scenario isn't a likely one. For the Cowboys to land Pitts, it's going to take a significant investment, both in Pitts himself and the move up to procure him. An investment that's better made in other areas of the roster if Dallas is to get back in the mix in the division in 2021.
Scoring 35 points a game while giving up 38 is not a recipe for success.
Neither is taking one step forward at the expense of two back.