Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that the only way he would consider making a deal prior to the NFL trade deadline, which is 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 1, was if there was an All-Pro or Hall of Fame-level game-changer available, like Pro Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. Jones signed "Prime Time" as a free agent before the 1995 season to cement the third and final Super Bowl championship during his ownership.
"Is that Deion out there?" Jones rhetorically replied with a grin prior to his team's 24-6 win against the Lions on Sunday when asked about making trades. "If we had a shot like that, it would be different. I don't see that happening."
However, Jones' actions have spoken louder than his words, as he showed Tuesday that the 5-2 Cowboys are open for business when they traded for Raiders defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
The Cowboys have one of the best defenses in football, and head coach Mike Carthy said earlier this season that "You want your defense to be the thermostat because the thermostat regulates the game. … They're going to keep us in striking distance because of just the way they're playing."
Cowboys defense this season
Total YPG Allowed
Pass YPG Allowed
Rush YPG Allowed
*Cowboys' most through first seven games since 1987 (34)
However, their run defense has appeared to be their Achilles heel, so Jones made a move to patch up that hole by swapping late-round draft picks with the Raiders to acquire the 6-foot-2, 320-pound Hankins.
"We feel he's an excellent fit for us, we can't bolster our run defense enough," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. "He's an excellent addition."
Following that deal, here are a few trades the Cowboys should consider making before next week's deadline. Free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will not be mentioned below since he would be a free agent signing, not a trade acquisition.
The Big Fish: Bears LB Roquan Smith
Jones mentioned not being interested in making a move unless it was for a high-caliber player. Well, Bears linebacker Roquan Smith fits that requirement, and he would be somebody who would fill both short-term and long-term needs in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's unit alongside linebacker Micah Parsons.
The eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft leads the NFL in tackles this season with 78, the most by any Bears player through the first seven games since at least 1987, as far back as Pro Football Reference data goes for tackles. His 602 career tackles since 2018 rank as the second-most in the NFL in that span behind only future Hall of Famer and current Los Angeles Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner (651).
Smith put together an all-round dominant performance in the Bears' 33-14 Week 7 road win on "Monday Night Football" against the New England Patriots. He totaled 12 tackles, a sack and an interception, wreaking havoc all night long whether or not Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe was the opposing quarterback. That effort stands alone as the only game this season that anyone in the entire NFL has had double-digit tackles, a sack, and interception. Adding a tackling machine like Smith would pay big dividends for the Cowboys' eventual Week 16 re-match against the currently undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, a team that runs the football on 53.1% of their offensive plays (third-highest rate in the NFL) while averaging 156 rushing yards per game (sixth-most in the NFL).
The Monday after that loss, Quinn said the entire defense was "pissed" after missing eight tackles, their second-most in a game this season, in the 26-17 defeat on "Sunday Night Football." A deal this big will have long-lasting ramifications on the Cowboys in terms of their defensive structure and their salary cap, but Smith's impact on that structure, particularly Parsons' positioning, makes the investment worthwhile. The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year has thrived this season, ranking in the top five of nearly every pass-rushing metric in 2022.
Micah Parsons this season
One of the biggest factors allowing Parsons to tee off on opposing quarterbacks at such a high level this season is his shift to becoming more of an every-down edge rusher by playing 75.7% of his snaps on the defensive line. Coming out of Penn State, he was viewed as an inside linebacker, and he played at that spot on 55.2% of his snaps as a rookie.
When Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence missed 10 games with a broken foot from Weeks 2-12 last season, Parsons totaled nine of his 13 sacks as a rookie in that span while lining up along the defensive line 49.4% of the time. This season, the Cowboys signed four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr to a one-year, $2 million deal after the 30-year-old missed a combined 21 games due to injuries across the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Barr was a player Quinn said he had been "bothering just about everyone in the organization about for a long time" to add to his defense because of the plan he had in place for the former Minnesota Viking. It was a plan that likely entailed Parsons being freed up to shift his focus toward transforming into a sack machine, and that's what he has become. He is the fourth-fastest player to reach 20.0 career sacks (23 games) since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
Micah Parsons career snap alignment*
*Data courtesy of Pro Football Focus
Imagine if the Cowboys had an in-his-prime, 25-year-old inside linebacker along with Barr for this season? Plus, with them anchoring the middle of the defense for many seasons down the line, Parsons would be able to remain in his game-altering role as an edge player.
Now, for the part about keeping Smith around long-term. The reason Smith is even being considered as a player who could be had in a trade is because he requested a trade a month before this season after failing to come to terms on an extension as he entered the final season of his rookie deal. He went so far as to say, "The new front office regime doesn't value me here, and they've refused to negotiate in good faith."
Knowing Smith resents his current front office gives the Cowboys an in to see if Bears first-year general manager Ryan Poles would be willing to deal their defensive anchor in order to accelerate their rebuild. He's already pulled the trigger on jettisoning one of his other top defenders, sending defensive lineman Robert Quinn to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a fourth round pick.
As for the Cowboys' cap space in 2023, they're currently projected to have $14.3 million according to OverTheCap. They can also add $11.9 million in space solely by cutting running back Ezekiel Elliott before June 1 next offseason, as his six-year, $90 million contract will be out of guaranteed money. The Cowboys wiping their soon-to-be 32-year-old left tackle Tyron Smith's eight-year, $97.6 million deal off their books prior to June 1, 2023 would return $9.6 million in cap savings as well. Smith has not played in a regular season game this year because of a preseason knee injury.
Adding Roquan Smith to a defense that already has Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs would position Dallas to have an All-Pro-caliber playmaker at all three levels of their defense for years to come.
WR help for Dak Prescott & CeeDee Lamb: Jerry Jeudy or K.J. Hamler
The Denver Broncos starting the 2022 season 2-5 and in last place in the AFC West is certainly not the position they thought they would be in after trading five draft picks for and extending nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson.
However, their start to the season should force them to take a reality check, especially with their wide receiver room. The Broncos signed Courtland Sutton to a four-year, $60.8 million extension in 2021, and they also signed Tim Patrick to a three-year, $34 million extension in 2021. Financially, they don't have room to keep those two, plus 23-year-olds Jerry Jeudy, the 15th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, and K.J. Hamler, a second-round pick (46th overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Lamb is the clear-cut top option in the Silver and Blue's offense, as his 66 targets account for 32.2% of team targets. That figure makes Lamb the second-most relied upon receiver in the entire NFL, narrowly trailing Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (32.4% team target percentage), the reigning Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. The Cowboys did sign 26-year-old receiver Michael Gallup to a five-year, $57.5 million extension this past offseason, but he's still working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered in 2021. He has only eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in four games played this season.
Acquiring Jeudy would be adding a pass-catcher with No. 1 option potential alongside Lamb, a formula that with Amari Cooper a year ago factored into Prescott setting the franchise single-season passing touchdowns record with 37 and the team averaging the most points per game in the entire NFL at 31.2. The Alabama alum, another parallel to Cooper, averages 16.1 yards per reception this season, the 11th-most in the league. Having that kind of verticality alongside Lamb would add a much-needed dimension to the Dallas passing game.
Hamler projects as a second or third option alongside Gallup, but his speed would be a welcome addition as well for Prescott. Hamler is fast enough to slot in as another return option along with KaVontae Turpin, and he can also take the top off a defense when going deep, as evidenced on "Monday Night Football" against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6.
GO LONG!!!!— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) October 18, 2022
📺: ESPN | @Kj_hamler
Hamler also showed an ability to make plays in the clutch as a rookie in 2020, securing a game-winning touchdown from quarterback Drew Lock with no time remaining in a 31-30 home win against the Chargers in Week 8 that season.
LOCK TO HAMLER. THE BRONCOS WIN THE GAME AT THE BUZZER. #BroncosCountry #LACvsDEN pic.twitter.com/TDltkzktRu— NFL (@NFL) November 2, 2020
Cooper Rush could be included in this deal, which would make sense given Denver's lack of depth at quarterback and Wilson's 447 career sacks taken, the most in the NFL since he was drafted in 2012. Rush, a winner in five of his six career starts, would be a significant upgrade over Brett Rypien, who completed only 52% of his throws for 225 yards and an interception in Wilson's place during the Broncos' 16-9 home loss versus the New York Jets in Week 7.
Either way, the Cowboys' 22nd-ranked scoring offense (19.1 points per game) needs an extra jolt, and adding one of these two Broncos to the mix in Dallas could result in an attack that more closely resembles last year's fireworks show.
OL reinforcements: G Graham Glasgow or C Lloyd Cushenberry
Same reasoning applies here for why the Broncos would make this trade: they're missing their first-round, second-round and sixth-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, and they have started the season 2-5. The Cowboys have a clear-cut need on the interior of their offensive line after losing rotational guard Matt Farniok for a reported six weeks because of a torn hamstring he suffered in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions.
The 30-year-old Glasgow started every game he played from his second season in 2017 through his sixth season in 2021. After missing the final eight games of last season with a broken ankle, Glasgow has started four of seven games for the Broncos up front in 2022 and has allowed only one sack on 185 pass-blocking snaps. He wouldn't be a rental since he's under contract for another season, but the Cowboys would likely want to restructure his deal in 2023, given that his current salary cap number comes in at $14 million next season.
The 24-year-old Cushenberry was Denver's third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and his health has been pristine, playing in 39 of a possible 40 games since 2020, starting in each one. He's also allowed just one sack, like Glasgow, on his 278 pass-blocking snaps this season. If Cushenberry III is willing to move to guard since Tyler Biadasz is entrenched at center for the Cowboys, he could be a strong value for Dallas with a year remaining on his rookie deal in 2023, only a $1.4 million cap hit.