The Cowboys are officially punting their season. Sitting at 2-5 with the worst defense in the NFL and a seventh-round rookie quarterback expected to start for them this week, Dallas began over the last two days what appears to be a full-blown fire sale ahead of the November 3 NFL trade deadline.
While getting rid of some extra baggage that was only making a layover in Dallas anyway is a good start, the Cowboys have much further to go.
Defensive end Everson Griffen was the first player traded by the Cowboys yesterday, sent to Detroit for a conditional sixth-round pick. Today word leaked that the Cowboys will either trade or cut DT Dontari Poe and CB Daryl Worley. This all makes sense. All three were signed this offseason as one-year rentals when the Cowboys thought they were going to be contenders. But they weren't going to be in Dallas beyond this season regardless so getting rid of them doesn't really matter. For the Cowboys to make over their team, something they obviously need based on their performance this season even with Dak Prescott under center, some big names have got to go.
Michael Gallup is a smart trade-now candidate. He's got one more year on his rookie deal and has shown flashes of being a star No. 2 wideout in the NFL. After drafting CeeDee Lamb in the first round and signing Amari Cooper to a massive extension this offseason, the Cowboys have enough depth at the position that Gallup has become an expendable commodity. They have bigger holes to fix on this roster than wide receiver. Better to get something for Gallup now and fill those holes than lose him for nothing after next year.
Jaylon Smith leads the NFL in tackles and just signed a six-year, $68.4 million extension this offseason. But there's an out in his contract after the 2021 season, making him the perfect candidate to trade for a high return. He's overpriced with a $9.4 million cap hit next year, which is the seventh-highest number on the Cowboys' books in 2021, but a win-now team like the Seahawks could use a versatile young inside linebacker. That opens up cap space for the Cowboys and provides more resources to rebuild this defense.
Longtime defensive leader Sean Lee is on a one-year deal, so it also makes sense to trade him for whatever you can get, and Aldon Smith has been productive enough on his one-year deal that he might fetch a pick too. You could make an argument for trading away Amari Cooper or Demarcus Lawrence and their bloated contracts too, but getting substantial picks for massive contracts is always hard. The point is, the Cowboys need a complete overhaul, specifically on defense. In order to do that, you need picks.
The Cowboys are currently 32nd in the league in points allowed per game (34.7) and rushing yards allowed per game (178.9). Part of the fault has to be placed on head coach Mike McCarthy, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and the new coaching staff, but player effort is another issue here. Film experts like Brian Baldinger have pointed out that the Cowboys defenders don't swarm the ball or take smart angles or wrap up on tackles or do any of the little things needed to succeed on defense. That's a cultural issue that must be weeded out through coaching staff and player personnel changes.
Beyond the need for a revitalized identity and personnel improvement on defense, the Cowboys also need to pay Dak Prescott this offseason. They currently have $30.4 million in cap space for 2021, which won't be enough to improve their team if the Cowboys pay Prescott anything around what Deshaun Watson got this year, which is the expectation. That means they'll need to restructure contracts and make additional cuts if things remain the same. Instead, they should rip the bandaid off now, get as many draft picks as they can, and retool this offseason.
I know it's impossible for Jerry Jones to pull the plug on a season, especially when the Cowboys are just a half-game out of first place in the division. But with Prescott injured, backup Andy Dalton playing terrible before he suffered a concussion, the defense in complete disarray, and an FCS quarterback named Ben DiNucci starting for now, this team isn't doing anything of note this season. Better to go full fire sale now and collect as many assets as you can for a rebuild heading into 2021 and beyond.