Cowboys' Top Trade Candidates Ahead of 2021 Training Camp

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IJune 21, 2021

Cowboys' Top Trade Candidates Ahead of 2021 Training Camp

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best chances to have a bounce-back season in 2021. Not only are they returning some key players from injury (such as quarterback Dak Prescott), but they have also made some smart additions to their roster throughout the offseason.

    Dallas may not be done making moves quite yet. With training camp set to begin in July, the team's roster is far from finalized. And that could lead to the Cowboys exploring the trade market to deal from a deep position group (or move a large contract) in order to either clear cap space or address another hole on their roster.

    It's been proved that Dallas isn't afraid to make noteworthy trades, even once a season has started. In October 2020, it dealt defensive end Everson Griffen after he had signed with the team prior to the start of the campaign.

    Here's a look at three players who could be trade candidates for the Cowboys later this summer.

Jaylon Smith, LB

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Cowboys bolstered their linebacker corps during the 2021 NFL draft, using a first-round pick on Micah Parsons and a fourth-round selection on Jabril Cox. That helped Dallas improve an area of its defense that needed to get better following the end of the 2020 campaign.

    It also could lead to the Cowboys trading a linebacker before the start of the 2021 season. And Smith, who is set to earn $7.2 million during the upcoming season, might be the most likely candidate.

    Dallas has received trade interest in Smith, according to Patrik Walker of CBS Sports, and for good reason. The 26-year-old has played all 16 games in each of his first four NFL seasons, and in 2020, he had a career-high 154 tackles, as well as 1.5 sacks, one interception and two fumble recoveries.

    Of course, the Cowboys may opt to continue building around Smith on their defense, even with the players they have brought in this offseason. But they would be wise to continue to listen to trade offers and make a move if they can get back a big return.

Leighton Vander Esch, LB

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Smith apparently isn't the only Cowboys linebacker who has garnered trade interest this offseason. Walker reported that there's also been interest in Vander Esch, who has struggled to stay on the field because of injuries in recent seasons.

    Vander Esch has played 19 games over the past two years after entering the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2018. Last season, he had 60 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in 10 games. So if the 25-year-old can stay healthy, he could keep getting better and be a key part of a team's pass rush.

    Although teams might be interested in Vander Esch, it seems Dallas doesn't want to trade him. NFL Network's Jane Slater reported earlier in June that the Cowboys aren't interested and that Vander Esch is "still very much a part of the defensive plan next year and in the future."

    Things can always change, though. And if there's an offer the Cowboys can't refuse, they might reconsider a trade, especially if they end up keeping Smith heading into 2021.

Michael Gallup, WR

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    If Gallup remains with the Cowboys, he'll be one of the team's top wide receivers during the upcoming season. However, the 25-year-old is entering the final year of his contract. And that could be a reason why his time in Dallas comes to an early end.

    The Athletic's Jon Machota recently wrote that he believes it's "unlikely" that Gallup is still on the Cowboys in 2022. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb will likely be priorities for Dallas in its receiving corps, and that could lead to it not having enough cap space to also bring back Gallup.

    Plus, Gallup's numbers were down in 2020 after he had a breakout season the year before. In 16 games, he had 59 receptions for 843 yards and five touchdowns. Of course, Prescott didn't play after Week 5, so that impacted the Cowboys' offensive production.

    Should Gallup remain in Dallas, he could be in store for a better showing in 2021. But perhaps a trade offer will come in that leads to the Cowboys deciding to cut ties with the wide receiver now rather than later.

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