Every man dies, but not every man truly lives. Right now, the Dallas Cowboys are dying as they sit at 2-4 on the season and are just two failed comebacks from being 0-6, their 2020 woes fueled largely by a slate of, Tyron Smith, La'El Collins, Joe Looney, Blake Jarwin and several key pieces of their beleaguered defense. They've now seen Leighton Vander Esch return from a weeks-long absence and will enjoy the return of Randy Gregory from suspension in their Week 7 matchup with the Washington Football Team, but time will tell if their additions are enough to right the ship for a defense that's allowed a franchise- and league-worst 218 points through six games.
And when it comes to the offense -- Prescott, Collins and Jarwin aren't running back onto the field in 2020, and both Brandon Knight and Zack Martin are.
That's the bad news (read: nauseating), but despite it all, the Cowboys are still in first place in the lowly NFC East, and sitting idly by ahead of the Nov. 3 trade deadline isn't going to get them anywhere close to where they'd like to be come January. Andy Dalton will continue to get the nod as starter and there's likely no trade to be made at the QB position that will change that course, but other areas of dire need can be readily upgraded with a series of phones calls and subsequent loosening of the purse strings. For a defense that is continually torched weekly, and an offensive line in dire straits, here are five options for the Cowboys to deploy before October expires.
I even threw in a tight end for good measure.
It's time to stop trusting the hope every guy "on campus" will someone step up and get the job done. Too many of them haven't, and with options abound to at least keep the dam from bursting, Jerry Jones and Co. need to start acting like some eager beavers. That is if they want to get back to truly living, versus drowning in their own inactivity.
The Cowboys needing help at safety is the worst kept secret in the history of secret keeping and, no, (which is quite telling at the moment).
Enter Justin Simmons, an instant Rx for what ails them, and one without character concerns. As it stands, sources tell CBS Sports neither the Cowboys nor Broncos have broached the topic of Simmons being moved to North Texas, but that could change ahead of the Nov. 3 deadline. The problem with the deal is the same as with any when it comes to the hyper-frugal Cowboys, in that they don't like Simmons' salary -- considering they'd have to absorb it in a trade. Absent a long-term deal being secured this offseason, Simmons is playing under a franchise tag that pays him $11.44 million in 2020, but he's already been paid $3.37 million of that by virtue of playing five games already. At $673,000 weekly, if the Cowboys landed Simmons ahead of Week 8, they'd have to take on $7.4 million for the remainder of 2020.
Yes, the Dallas front office is squirreling away money to pay Dak Prescott in 2021, but they currently have approximately $23.47 million in cap space, leaving them $16 million in rollover to add to next year's salary cap. That's not exactly cap poverty by any measure, even if the cap is set to take a hit and bottom out at $175 million -- the minimum agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA. For a 26-year-old safety in his prime who is also coming off of an All-Pro season in 2019, and considering the dire need at the position in Dallas, it makes all the sense in the world to at least lob a 2021 fourth-round pick at the Broncos to see if that will pry away Simmons.
That's the starter offer, and I'd be open to discussing a third- or a second-rounder, especially after seeing the Cowboys willing to give up equal or greater draft capital in the failed attempts to trade for Earl Thomas and Jamal Adams. After all, this doesn't just solve a need for now, but one for later (i.e., solving a draft need), assuming the wisdom exists to secure him on a long-term deal once the trade is done. With Xavier Woods on a contract year and Donovan Wilson needing more time to develop as a starter, Simmons is not only an answer.
He might be the answer.
If for whatever reason the Cowboys don't get traction with the Broncos, they can try with the Vikings.
The first hurdle is the same as that of Simmons, in that Harris is also being paid under an $11.44 million franchise tag after not agreeing to a long-term deal in Minnesota this offseason. The math works out exactly the same as far as what the Cowboys would have to eat in 2020, but what they would avoid having to stomach by making this trade is continued humiliation at the hands of opposing quarterbacks and receivers. In my 2020 ranking of NFL safeties, I ranked Harris as one of the best in the league (No. 5, just ahead of Simmons at No. 6), but Simmons does get the edge in the age category -- Harris currently being 28 years old.
He's also not enjoying an interception-fueled season this time around with the Vikings, but that's much more symptomatic of other issues on a defensive unit tasked with being on the field far more often than they'd like due to the struggling offense. That said, Harris has amassed nine interceptions in his previous two seasons, his six INTs in 2019 being both a career-best and tied for most in the entire league with Stephen Gilmore and Tre'Davious White -- two of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. And if there's anything the Cowboys are starving for right now, it's takeaways, having just one interception and one defensive fumble recovery through six games.
The fact he didn't land a Pro Bowl nod in 2019 is, at minimum, borderline criminal. As it would be for the Cowboys to not pick up the phone and find out what the Vikings would be willing to accept to part ways with him. Much like Simmons above, I'd start with a fourth-rounder and move up from there if necessary, pulling the ejector lever at anything above a second-round pick. Why not go higher than a second? Simple. It's because it's finally time to find a successor to Tyron Smith at the second-most important position in football, and if that's not via trade, it has to be in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Give up a second-rounder for Simmons or Harris -- if that push comes to shove in negotiations -- then ink one to a multi-year deal and finally stop avoiding the value of a primo NFL safety. And the fact Harris spent a lot of time in Minnesota with former Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, who is now on McCarthy's staff in Dallas, only further justifies making this happen.
Speaking of Tyron Smith, it's time to have a two-lemonade discussion.
Smith has routinely missed three games each regular season since the 2016 season, and while that's been a cause for concern -- particularly given the fact the absences were due to back and neck issues -- it's mostly been a manageable situation for the Cowboys. That was until this season, when he'd miss Week 2 and Week 3 with neck stingers before returning in Week 4, only to then undergo season-ending surgery on his neck. The Cowboys are not vocally concerned about what this means for the remainder of Smith's illustrious Hall of Fame career, but not addressing the position both now and later would be tantamount to football malpractice. The left tackle position can make or break an offense and its quarterback, and Brandon Knight might've played admirably as a replacement, but he's struggled the last two games and ahead of Week 7.
This is where Reiff can be of serious use in Dallas, and the former first-round pick is not exactly thrilled about his future in Minnesota, although he's saying all the right things as it relates to being "happy to be here." In the same breath, he's taking his future "hour by hour" with the Vikings, after reworking his deal to avoid being released to make room for the addition of Yannick Ngakoue and the extension on Dalvin Cook. With that, Reiff went from someone expected to land a nice re-up in Minny to one who reportedly said goodbye to teammates ahead of the reworked deal, and one who the Cowboys could acquire to provide an instant and top quality stopgap at left tackle over the next two seasons or more (because going cheap at LT is a bad decision).
Through the first five games of the season, Reiff was fourth-best in pass-block efficiency grade among tackles -- per PFF -- and allowed the third-fewest pressures in the league. Additionally, he allowed zero sacks and didn't commit a single penalty. Under contract through the 2021 season, Reiff is set to hit the salary cap for for a hefty $13.95 million next season, but that can be reduced via another reworked deal/extension that potentially adds a year or two to his current deal to both spread the hit and give the Cowboys a potential out in 2023 -- when Reiff will be 35 years old.
Reiff is durable, proven and one of the best in the league at keeping his QB clean on the blindside. If there are any concerns whatsoever about the viability of Smith going forward -- even if they're quiet as kept -- send a fourth-round pick to the Vikings (start with a fifth in negotiations, though) to take Reiff off of their hands, seeing as they already have the future in Ezra Cleveland (which should keep their price on Reiff as honest as his cap hit does). That is unless you trust a blindside rotation that includes Cam Erving, Greg Senat, and others currently sitting on the practice squad.
Spoiler: Don't trust that rotation.
The Cowboys just got an eyeful of who Reddick is and what he can do.
Reddick joined the Cardinals in disemboweling the Cowboys on their own field at AT&T Stadium in Week 6, delivering five combined tackles and leading the team with two sacks -- for good measure. Reddick terrorized Andy Dalton and the Cowboys offense, along with Jordan Hicks, Budda Baker and others, and the contrast between what he and Jaylon Smith put on film was astounding. Smith is coming off of a fantastic game in Week 5 over the New York Giants, but he's often been a liability in the Cowboys linebacker corps this season, which adds to the regression seen in 2019. This isn't to say the Cowboys should do away with Smith after signing him to an extension last year, because that's much too drastic a decision for a unit that also lacks talented depth.
It is to say, however, that between the overall questionable play of Smith and the durability issues with Leighton Vander Esch (and Sean Lee), making a move for Reddick just makes sense, for both now and for the future.
It feels like Reddick could do even more damage in a situation wherein he logs more snaps than he does in Arizona, seeing as he has just 21 starts in 54 games since the Cardinals used the 13th-overall pick on him in 2017. I'm convinced Reddick is suddenly not good enough to be a starter in the NFL, as much as I point to the fact he's not Kliff Kingsbury's guy, considering the latter didn't take the reins as head coach until 2019. To that point, Reddick went from 12 starts in 2018 to only five last season, despite having delivered four sacks, five pass break ups, a forced fumble and 80 combined tackles in 2018. The addition of Buddha Baker also factors in -- a versatile safety who can line up at linebacker when asked to do so.
And considering Baker, as one example, isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future, maybe it's time Reddick does.
A sixth-round pick should get this conversation started with Arizona, and the Cowboys just happen to have two sixth-round compensatory picks currently in their pocket, by way of the contracts on Jason Witten and Maliek Collins in Las Vegas. It would quite literally cost the Cowboys nothing but his remaining 2020 salary -- seeing as he's under a contract year -- of just over $2.3 million, while freeing up cap space for the Cardinals on a player they're not leaning heavily on, the shellacking of the Cowboys notwithstanding. If the Cardinals were trying to show the Cowboys what they could have in Reddick, they achieved the hell out of that mission on Monday night.
Don't look now, but Njoku reportedly (and again) wants out of Cleveland.
Back from injured reserve, where he spent time due to a knee injury, the former first-round pick has voiced his displeasure with his role on multiple occasions now. He initially sought a trade in July but to no avail, walking back the request at the beginning of August. He's since played in three games this season and been targeted a total of seven times, amassing just 13 receiving yards in his last two games and 63 on the year. Njoku has mostly had it up to here with the Browns -- *gestures toward my hair line* -- and wants to go somewhere where he'll be utilized often. He'd get his wish for more targets in Dallas, where although Dalton Schultz has played admirably in attempting to replace Blake Jarwin, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 1, he's also been inconsistent through six games.
Schultz has just two touchdowns on the season and the fact is the tight end unit as a whole could use some dynamic help, and Njoku is just that. As far as present tense goes, he can step in and overtake Schultz in a single TE set and play alongside him in two-TE sets, as opposed to the Cowboys asking Blake Bell to be what he traditionally isn't (a receiving weapon). And when Jarwin returns as TE1 in 2021, the tandem of he and Njoku would truly give Dak Prescott a felonious level of offensive riches, allowing Schultz to provide some talented depth.
Njoku has a fifth-year option on his deal that pays $6.013 million in 2021, which gives Dallas the same flexibility financially. The Browns are hoping to and will likely keep Kevin Stefanski around for longer than five minutes, but the new-look front office is also going to need some extra draft picks to start building for the future, and the Cowboys just happen to have the aforementioned extra fourth-rounder laying around next April. What better way to acquire an extra one than to grant Njoku's request for a trade this time around, seeing as although he is one of the most talented young tight ends in the NFL, he's also disgruntled, and there's nothing that guarantees he re-signs in Cleveland once his rookie contract expires.
In striking a deal with the Cowboys, they'd get a fourth-rounder they can either flip or use for a potential impact player, and Dallas gets a solution at TE1 now, and a serious TE2 effective next season. I would even try to negotiate this down to a fifth-round pick, using the recent injury and overall unhappiness within Njoku as leverage in post-IR trade talks, but that's just me.
Of all five trade options I've mentioned, this is the least pressing but also the least expensive, and more of a lively play at making an already overpowered offense (with Prescott at the helm) that much more so in 2021.